This month, the office debuted two new pages on its website, one highlighting the work of the Crime Strategies Unit, the other focusing on the office’s Community Advisory Board. These elements are intended to work in tandem. Prosecutors have found that community input can inform the type of analysis that can be useful to building stronger community/prosecutor communications.
During the pandemic, when area courts operated at a reduced rate, the CSU undertook a deep examination of our office’s drug prosecution efforts in Kansas City. The CSU uncovered that one-third of police-referred cases involved non-violent drug offenses. The majority of these offenses were low-level possession of user amounts of methamphetamine, crack-cocaine, and heroin. We also found alarming racial disparities in drug referrals and prosecution. Black people in Kansas City (Jackson County) make up 39% of the population, but they were 85% of referred drug sale defendants. Most of those drug sales were for user-level amounts of marijuana. Firearms were recovered in less than 5% of referred drug cases.
It was clear our drug enforcement efforts did not connect to violence and had highly problematic racial disparities. The office re-evaluated our charging guidelines on non-violent drug cases. We now file drug-related cases only with a documented community concern or a demonstrable connection to violence. This policy was Kansas City only, as Eastern Jackson County police agencies referred few drug sale cases. See last year’s annual report for more details about this analysis.
Crime analysts in the CSU also are enlisted for evidence presentation and trial preparation of significant cases. A crime analyst was deeply involved in presenting videos of the fatal shooting of Cameron Lamb and the shootings by a Kansas City police officer in the Midtown area of Kansas City.
The CSU also focused at this point on making its prosecution of cases more transparent to the public. The main dashboard, which organizes and displays data in a variety of ways not available to the public earlier, focuses on every criminal case presented or referred to our office. The dashboard is readily available via our website.
The CSU, especially in 2022, has also been heavily involved in the creation of a new social services referral program for the Partners For Peace program. This program is the outgrowth of the Kansas City No Violence Alliance, a collaboration that resulted in reduced violence levels in 2014, using a common law enforcement strategy known as “focused deterrence.” Essentially, law enforcement pools information to identify individuals or groups active in gun violence. Then law enforcement and community supporters attempt to talk to these individuals to move them away from a violent outcome. The approach includes services and other incentives to stay clear of any violence and enforcement on those individuals who continue to be involved in gun violence.
After the violence-reduction effort stalled in 2018, the Justice Department initiated talks with law enforcement leaders on the other types of strategies that might be started in Kansas City to reduce violence. In 2020, the Department of Justice’s Public Safety Partnership helped develop a new strategic plan to reduce violence. Central to the plan, the group agreed, would be to reach out to individuals who were victims of gun violence or their families. Nationally, many cities are attempting to reach these victims, hoping intervention with social services or other help can keep them away from a future connected to violence.
In 2022, Kansas City police showed willingness to make more information from each week’s shootings available to the CSU. Each week, a list of every shooting victim is shared with CSU, which then refers victims to social workers in the COMBAT Midtown Strivin’ Hub. Phones are manned by social workers who reach out to these victims and offer help. In 2022, Partners for Peace referred nearly every shooting victims for services. In 2023, the program expects to increase that number to 500.
To rebuild a healthy community, we must reach out, console and help each individual harmed by violence. It’s just what a healthy community does.