By Jean Peters Baker
If you get caught for a homicide in Jackson County, you should expect that you will be charged and convicted. This reality is only possible with the partnership of law enforcement. The new data I am presenting today also shows the vast majority of homicide cases result not only in convictions, but also in heavy sentences, although we strictly evaluate all cases under applicable laws and strive for a just outcome.
It’s never been more important that we dig deeper into this jurisdiction’s homicide data to inform our community about how to deal effectively with our violence problem. Increasing arrests and prosecution of homicides is a necessary part of any safe community. Prosecutions can address the harm done to victims and community. I’ve witnessed this happen in the prosecutions I’ve handled personally. But arrest and prosecution alone are not the only solutions to this complex problem of violence. To best protect our community, we must employ all solutions to reducing homicides, including intervention and prevention efforts. The purpose of today’s blog is not to address those important solutions to our violence problem. This blog, rather, will focus on the outcomes of our new homicide analysis.
As you may know, homicides are declining in many large cities, but Kansas City has not followed that trend. We are unfortunately on a pace to record more homicides in 2023 than in any year in our history. As I said last month, the steady climb of homicides and non-fatal shootings is a grim reality devastating parts of our community, yet violence impacts all parts of our community. My office holds a deep compassion for the families of these victims. We fight for them every day and we mourn with them, but more must be done.
The Crime Strategies Unit (CSU) in my office analyzed the number of occurred, received, and disposed (non-vehicular) homicides over the past 14 months, from May 2022 through June 2023. This analysis estimates that, during this period, around 230 homicides occurred in Jackson County, with a majority being reported from the Kansas City Police Department. The following analysis was last conducted in 2019; we wanted to replicate it for 2022-23 and compare the results.
2019 Homicide Analysis and 2023 Homicide Analysis
Our analysis showed KCPD reported 200 homicides in Jackson County, of which KCPD submitted 90 homicide cases for charging. That means they’ve cleared or solved 45% of homicides from May 2022 through June 2023. Likewise, in eastern Jackson County, police solved 30 homicides. We are awaiting confirmation of homicide totals for eastern Jackson County agencies during this period, but we know from our records that eastern Jackson County police solved and referred 30 homicide cases to our office.
In total, police agencies in all of Jackson County submitted 120 homicide cases for charging. By the end of June 2023, charges were filed in two-thirds of those cases, while 14 cases remained under review. Our office declined to charge 16 cases where the suspect had a legal self-defense claim, meaning he or she acted in defense of himself or another person. Nine cases were declined due to insufficient evidence or other reasons, and the defendant passed away in one case.
More of those submitted cases will be charged before the close of 2023, which should boost the percentage of cases charged by our office close to 80 percent, at or slightly above the level found in the 2019 homicide analysis.
The new analysis also captured how busy our office has been. In 2019, my office disposed of 61 homicides, losing only one conviction, a not-guilty verdict at trial. That defendant, however, was charged with federal crimes and remains in prison.
In our 2022-23 analysis, our office disposed of 123 homicides during the 14-month period. This represents an incredible 72.5% increase in disposed cases. In the 22-23 analysis, we averaged 8.8 homicides per month, compared to about 5 homicides disposed per month in 2019.
This shows that my office, with no additional staff, is greatly boosting their workload and disposal of homicide cases. We certainly feel this workload and I constantly worry about the weight on our staff, but it is a significant accomplishment for the public. And it’s effective.
This analysis bolsters that when we file a case, the community can expect that we will achieve a fair conviction. These are hard fought results with skillful public servants in this office. Of the 123 disposed homicides during the 14-month study period, five defendants were found not guilty by a jury. An important note regarding those 5 acquittals is that four of those five defendants were co-defendants in two homicides, meaning more than one defendant was charged. In both those homicides, another defendant was convicted of the homicide. In other words, someone was held accountable for those violent crimes.
This is comparable to the 2019 findings: only one defendant was found not guilty by a Jackson County jury. As stated above, the defendant ended up being held accountable in federal prison. Overall, 85.4% of our disposed cases resulted in a conviction, even counting the four co-defendants. In 2019, that conviction rate was 98.4%, as only one defendant was found not guilty at trial.
Here's another boost from the data. The length of sentences for Murder in the 1st and 2nd Degree convictions in Jackson County increased to 26.5 years in the 2022-23 analysis, up from 23.2 years in 2019. Of course, this undercounts the actual amount of time that people serve if convicted for Murder in the 1st Degree, which is the rest of their natural life, often beyond 30 years. But the state of Missouri counts life sentences as 30 years, which is how we counted them. These outcomes were only achievable with the efforts of the men and women who work for our law enforcement partners. I am grateful for that partnership.
I will close with a concern, regarding the issue of self-defense. This defense is broadly given in my jurisdiction, especially in a shooting. But the Missouri Legislature’s expansion of self-defense and companion statutes and the repeal of conceal and carry laws, has resulted in declined prosecutions in Kansas City. Sixteen homicides in Jackson County were declined for charges because of self-defense. In 2019, the declines for self-defense were only five.
I invite your suggestions regarding this complex problem of violent crime in our community. I will continue to update this data throughout the year, but I also want to champion the public servants in my office. Not only did our system not buckle under increased pressure to prosecute more homicides than I once thought imaginable, but it prosecuted effectively.
 As of July 25, 2023, 114 homicides have been reported by KCPD. KCPD releases updated daily and year-to-date homicide statistics, which can be viewed through this link: Crime Statistics (kcpd.org)
 Unfortunately, we are unable to produce the exact number of homicides that occurred during this period across Jackson County. The MO State Highway Patrol has reported 243 homicides in Jackson County, with 216 from KCPD and 27 from other agencies throughout the County. It must be noted, however, that data from MOSHP does not divide KCPD reported crimes into corresponding Clay and Platte Counties, thus overcounting the number of reported homicides by KCPD that occur within our jurisdiction. At the same time, the number of reported homicides from other agencies is undercounted, as some agencies do not report to MOSHP or require more time to report such data to MOSHP. In comparison, internal violent crime data collected from weekly KCPD reports indicate 207 firearm-related homicides, with 7 outside of Jackson County. Discrepancies in our data will remain a challenge, but we are working diligently with our partners to build more robust data reporting systems in order to produce more precise data in the future. Crime data from MOSHP can be viewed here: https://showmecrime.mo.gov/CrimeReporting/CrimeReportingTOPS.html
 Of the 14 cases that remained under review, a follow-up on July 20th indicated that 5 were awaiting further evidence and pending further investigation, One was declined on reasons of Self-Defense, 2 were awaiting juvenile certification, 1 case file was not yet received by our office, and the remaining 5 were still under review.