Trending Topics

Kansas City PD chief announces new plan to combat crime after city’s deadliest year on record

Nearly 200 homicides occurred in 2023, up from 151 in 2019; the new plan will utilize police and community collaboration, a larger volume of social services and a concept called “focused deterrence” to reduce crime


Police and crime scene investigators collecting evidence after a shooting in killed three people and injured six others in late June outside an auto shop known for hosting gatherings near 57th Street and Prospect Avenue in Kansas City. This year could become Kansas City’s deadliest year.

Tammy Ljungblad/TNS

By Kendrick Calfee
The Kansas City Star

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — As Kansas City’s rising rates of violent crime continues to end lives and devastate communities, Kansas City Police Chief Stacey Graves unveiled an ambitious, wide-reaching plan last month to reduce crime.

The plan was unveiled in its entirety mid-March, when Graves posted it on the KCPD website and spoke at two public events describing how police plan to implement its overarching ideas into real-world actions.

It comes after Kansas City recorded its deadliest year on record in 2023, with 185 homicides, according to data maintained by The Star, which includes fatal police shootings. In the last five years, Kansas City’s homicide rate has steadily increased, from 151 killings in 2019 to 185 in 2023. Non-fatal shootings are also on the rise.

The city’s second deadliest year on record was in 2020, when there were 182 killings.

Throughout Graves’ 2024 plan are traces of an initiative that began in the middle of last year — the Violent Crime Reduction Initiative — which aimed at police and community collaboration, a larger volume of social services and a concept called “focused deterrence” to reduce crime.

Focused deterrence is a crime prevention strategy that targets high-risk offenders, featuring both swift sanctions for offenses and social services and community support to enable change.

It was also at the heart of a program credited with driving down homicides a decade ago in Kansas City, known as Kansas City No Violence Alliance, or KC NoVa. Despite major reductions seen in its first year, the success of that program was ultimately determined to be short-lived, as violent crime numbers crept back up. KC NoVa was shuttered in 2019.

A year ago, the Violent Crime Reduction Initiative was criticized by some community activists, who suggested the approach was dated. At that time, Graves said the plan was not “hers,” but rather a city-wide approach that worked alongside local organizations, prosecutors, crime-fighting groups and city agencies.

Those same strategies are sandwiched into the new KCPD Crime Plan, with more robust goals, and a system for tracking those goals.

“(The plan) is addressing what should be done, who should be doing it, and why certain strategies are being chosen and deployed in the first place,” Graves said at a public safety event March 15.

KCPD crime plan strategies

The crime plan outlines three main strategies for police to implement: data-informed community engagement (DICE), data-driven deployment and focused deterrence.

Graves said the strategies allow for an implementation across a spectrum of teams within KCPD, and can look different depending on the situation.

“We’re focusing on the offender, the victim and the place,” Graves said at a public safety symposium in March. “We want to make sure that we are focusing on those violent crime drivers in the city... make sure that our efforts are toward those who are most involved in violent crime, but also the peripheral group around some of those offenders that we can offer resources to... and show them a different path.”

Kansas City police did not speak with The Star on the record about its new crime plan, but pointed toward public remarks from Graves at a meeting of the police board of commissioners and a document posted on its website.

The plan’s overarching goals include:

  • Sustained reductions in violent crime and property crime by a minimum of 10%.
  • Sustained increases in citizen satisfaction by a minimum of 10%
  • Improve police legitimacy and build relationships and trust with community members, business owners and local government institutions.

The crime plan does not outline a timeline for those goals, however it does present a system for measuring them.
Violent and property crime will be measured by data tools and crime rates, while citizen satisfaction and relationships will be measured through a variety of surveys, the plan states.

In the plan, each division of KCPD has primary tasks in alignment with the strategies. Those tasks can include situational crime prevention, community support and outreach, enforcement and prevention and prioritized enforcement and investigation of repeat violent offenders.

A snapshot of crime in Kansas City

According to Kansas City police annual crime reports data, homicides, non-fatal shootings and motor vehicle theft are all on the rise.

Beyond the rise in homicides, non-fatal shootings are also up from 435 cases in 2019 to 443 in 2023. Motor vehicle theft increased exponentially in that same 5-year period, increasing from 3,807 cases in 2019 to 7,471 in 2023.

Robberies and burglaries are both on a decline.

“Some desirable trends can be seen, namely for robberies and burglaries,” Graves said. “However, there is much work to be done, particularly when it comes to homicides and non-fatal shootings.”

As of April 3, Kansas City has recorded 36 homicides in 2024. It has already experienced two mass shootings this year, one at Crown Center and the other at the Chiefs Super Bowl victory rally. The city also experienced at least two mass shootings last year.

But most of the violent crime, police noted in their report, stem from arguments or interactions that quickly escalated. According to KCPD annual crime reports, 89% of homicides from 2019-2023 involved use of a firearm.

“I can’t tell you how many surveillance videos I’ve watched where there is an argument taking place where people could have walked away,” Graves said. “(And) where people actually have walked away, came back, re-engaged in an argument and shot.”

To address this issue, police rely on ways law enforcement and community partners can provide social services to get ahead of shootings stemming from arguments.

The police Community Engagement Division touts an ongoing deployment of services which do not fall under “traditional law enforcement roles.” KCPD employs community interaction officers (CIOs), who host community meetings and events, and make contact with citizens to reduce retaliatory violence.

Social service specialists through KCPD provide outreach and service referrals to community members such as rent assistance or temporary relocation. The division also has officers assigned to the Housing Authority of Kansas City to work in housing developments across the city.

A crisis intervention team (CIT), which has been a part of the department since 2017, pairs mental health service providers with police to improve interaction between police and people with mental health or substance abuse disorders. The program aims to prevent inappropriate restraint, incarceration and stigmatization.

KCPD’s community engagement division also has officers dedicated to youth engagement and an LGBTQ+ diversity liaison.

But the crime plan also maps out ways police rely on community partners to effectively carry out and continue the social services that are initially provided.

Emphasis on community partners

“To truly make a sustainable impact, we must take a city-wide approach to reducing violent crime and work together in both words and action to improve quality of life for all Kansas Citians and change the trajectory of violent crime,” Graves said in a post on the KCPD website.

The new KCPD crime plan puts a heavy emphasis on it being a city-wide approach. Its structure attempts to intertwine policing efforts and interventions and services which are community-led. It leans on community partners like Aim 4 Peace, Lyrik’s Institution, Ad Hoc Group Against Crime, KC Common Good, KC 360 and others for their parts in violence prevention.

Klassie Alcine, CEO of KC Common Good and KC 360, attended a public safety symposium in March, where among other speakers, Graves discussed elements of the crime plan. Alcine told The Star that some strategies around violence prevention can be done by police and community organizations, while others may be more effective coming from people with lived experiences in violence.

“We hope that everyone realizes they play a role in violence reduction,” Alcine said. “Living in the city, you play a role. So, we have to do more on encouraging everyone to step up.”

“If you want to hire a youth that needs a job — maybe that’s your role,” she said. “If you want to donate to Lyrik’s Institution that’s doing this work with some of the higher-risk youth — that can be your role.”

Alcine said she believes it is important to use data to learn about what is most effective in violence prevention. But, she said, she is tired of talking about the data without actions to follow.

Other activists in the community share a similar sense of urgency when it comes to legitimate change in policing strategies.

Spencer Webster, an attorney with MORE2, said he is glad to see there is a structured crime plan coming from KCPD. Even so, he is worried that KCPD’s focus on data in its DICE approach may end up overwhelmingly targeting minorities.

“In the recent lawsuit we filed in trying to get local control (of the police department), we’ve shown that... it’s not necessarily that Black people commit more crimes, but that they are policed at a higher rate,” Webster said.

Kansas City remains the only city in Missouri that does not have local control of its police force. Instead, the police are overseen by a board of five police commissioners, four who are appointed by the governor. Mayor Quentin Lucas fills the other spot as its only elected member.

MORE2, a faith-based organization that works to change policies thorough grassroots movements, remains focused particularly on racial and economic equity in Kansas and Missouri. It has focused for some time on promoting a locally-controlled police force.

“We’ve discussed community-based policing a lot, but really none of that matters because we can’t provide our input on what better policing looks like,” Webster said. “Until we get that, I think the conversation about (change) is kind of a mute point, because there’s nothing we can do about it.”

Webster said police partnering with organizations and individuals in the community to provide services is a “step in the right direction.” But he wants the partnership to be more than words in a document, he said.

“If we can get (KCPD’s Community Engagement Division) to do what KCPD claims they’re supposed to do, that would be a good step in the right direction,” he said. “I think, if they really wanted to engage with the community, then they should really engage with the community.”

KC Common Good and KC 360, an effort modeled after Omaha 360, has touted a 10-point action plan to address violence in the community. The KC 360 program began in 2022. While city officials last year cited its efforts as contributing toward lower homicide rates in Kansas City’s Santa Fe neighborhood, community members say it will take time to tell if the plan is working.

In Omaha, officials said the violence prevention strategy eventually achieved a 74% drop in shootings, but that process took 15 years to show real impact.

And while the KCPD crime plan — although only recently offically unveiled — effectively began in 2023 when Graves became chief, police say its strategies, including the work done by community partners, are already being implemented.

But the prospect of such plans in Kansas City requiring a similar timeline as Omaha’s to slow the violence and reduce crime means it may be years before its effectiveness is known.

©2024 The Kansas City Star. Visit
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.