Jean Peters Baker has cemented a reputation during her tenure as Jackson County’s elected prosecutor as a fearless and compassionate advocate for the victims of crime, especially the young and most vulnerable, and a champion of working with police and community leaders to confront the complex problem of violence.
Baker was appointed prosecutor in May 2011 and elected to the position in November 2012. She is only the second woman elected to lead the Jackson County Prosecutor’s Office; the first, now-U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, hired Baker as a young assistant prosecutor. Baker has since served in nearly every unit of the office.
Baker is widely credited with being unafraid of tackling difficult cases. In 2011, the new prosecutor Baker prosecuted the bishop of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph for failing to report potential abuse of children by a priest. The case attracted national attention after a Jackson County grand jury’s indictment made the bishop the highest-ranking cleric in the United States to face a criminal charge related to church’s child sex abuse scandal. In another case that attracted national attention, Baker, as a special prosecutor in October 2013, filed charges in a high-profile sexual assault involving high school football players in northwest Missouri. And in 2021 and 2022, Jackson County prosecutors convicted a series of police officers accused of wrongly using excessive or deadly force on citizens. In 2021, Kevin Strickland, who had spent 43 years in a Missouri prison, was freed after a team of Jackson County prosecutors, led by Baker, demonstrated to a judge that Strickland has been wrongly convicted in 1979. Today, Strickland is a free man.
Over her career in the prosecutor’s office, Baker has served in practically every unit of the office, including Chief Warrant Officer. In 2018, she created a Crime Strategies Unit, to enhance the office’s data analysis and to promote evidence-based decision making. A key outcome was an examination of drug prosecutions in Jackson County, which found significant racial disparities in the cases referred to our office and little effectiveness in achieving meaningful outcomes. Today, the office continues to accept Kansas City drug cases, but it stresses that these cases must have a connection to violence or be a community concern, such as a drug house disrupting the street’s peace.
To address violence, early in her tenure, Baker initiated a new violence reduction effort that now is known as the Kansas City No Violence Alliance. The effort is led by a governing board that includes Baker, Mayor Sly James, Kansas City Police Chief Darryl Forte’ and U.S. Attorney Tammy Dickinson. Using an evidence-based or proven approach known as focused deterrence, KC NoVA in 2014 was able to help the community reduce homicides in Kansas City to the lowest level in four decades.
Baker briefly left the prosecutor’s office in 2010, when she was elected as a Missouri State Representative and served as the leader of the Freshman Democrats during her tenure in the General Assembly. She spearheaded the Kansas City Caucus and served as a co-chair of this group to promote economic development issues for the Kansas City area. In 2011, Baker stepped down as state representative and was appointed to succeed Jim Kanatzar as the county’s top law enforcement official -- Jackson County Prosecutor.
Baker grew up in an Osage County, MO, farming community, received a bachelor’s degree from Columbia College in Columbia, MO, a master’s degree in public administration from the University of Missouri-Columbia and a law degree from the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law.