National alarms about increased violence to Black females may be exaggerated, but should still be a grave concern.
Last October, many urban Kansas City residents expressed increasing concern, fueled by social media reports, over the safety of Black females. A Black woman, 22, escaped from a home in Excelsior Springs after she told police she had been abducted on Prospect Avenue in Kansas City by the Clay County homeowner. He kept her restrained in the basement, and she had not been alone, she said; other victims were there.
The Clay County homeowner faces multiple felony charges, but concern grew in the Black community that police were not taking seriously these reports of missing Black women. Police, meanwhile, issued statements that they had no credible reports of missing Black women. But the community continued to express doubt.
Refer to https://kcbeacon.org/stories/2022/10/20/kansas-city-missing-black-women/
This fear sounded all too familiar. In 2007-2008, I served on the prosecution team of Terry Blair. We presented evidence to convict Blair of murdering seven women, who all lived or worked along Prospect Avenue. Two additional murdered women, Sandra Reed and Nellia Harris, were charged in the original case along with three additional charges of rape. Such a large number of victims demonstrated how vulnerable some populations are to harm.
So, any report of a missing person, someone whose loved one’s fear might have been kidnapped or somehow be in danger, immediately raises concerns. Beyond that, our community must have a basic trust in the criminal justice system. Without that, things fall apart. Violence rises as fewer persons in the community come forward to help solve crimes. Violence then begets more violence. I sought the real experts to help me determine the depth of this problem, the community. I sought the insights of two community groups who work with this population to see if they had additional concerns. They assured me that while we must remain vigilant, no new or heightened concern existed in this community.
Remaining vigilant, I asked crime analysts in my office to delve into the data on Black female homicides when The Wall Street Journal reported a dramatic increase in Black female homicides in U.S. cities came across my desk. Do we have a growing problem here with regard to Black female homicides? The Wall Street Journal report in late-December 2022 was shocking. In 21 U.S. cities, the newspaper reported, unsolved homicides of Black females had increased 89 percent, comparing 2018-2019 data to 2020-2021. All homicides of Black females, the report continued, had increased 51 percent, comparing 2019 data to 2021.
Refer to: https://www.wsj.com/articles/black-women-homicides-clearance-rates-murders-11672431377
Analysts in my office’s Crime Strategies Unit examined Kansas City data that tracks every homicide and non-fatal shooting in Kansas City. Most of that violence is concentrated in portions of Kansas City that are in Jackson County. Kansas City, overall, has long struggled to reduce the city’s violence levels. Homicides at the end of 2014 were at a 50-year low, but by 2020 they climbed high to 179, an all-time high for our city.
The KCPD shooting review data showed 15 black female homicide victims in 2019 in Kansas City, Jackson County and 17 in 2021, an increase of 13.3% -- compared to the 51% increase reported by the Wall Street Journal. Even a slight increase is disappointing, but something less than the reported 51 percent increase was positive news. Our data also revealed a 4.9% overall increase in homicide victims in Kansas City, Jackson County from 2019 (144) to 2021 (151), far less than the 34% increase reported by WSJ during that same period.
We also found mixed results related to the clearance rates for black female homicides. Recall that the number of unsolved homicides of Black females rose, according to WSJ’s report, by 89 % in 2020-21, compared to 2018-19. Our analysts found an 18.2% decline in Black female homicides that remained unsolved during the same period. This data is calming given the trends reported by WSJ.
Still, this information provides opportunities for concerted improvement. While Black females in Kansas City experienced an increase in homicide clearance rate, about 8 percent between 2018-19 and 2020-21, that increase wasn’t as large as the homicide clearance rate increase for other demographic groups. All, except white females, experienced increases in solve rates.
For more on how we arrived at our homicide clearance rates to compare with that of WSJ, we provide breakdowns of homicide cases by status:
For certain, our data was not as startling as the national news report. The Wall Street Journal’s findings offered a very narrow snapshot of violent crime trends for Black females. For some unexplained reason, the Journal chose to compare 2018—2019 to 2020-2021. Just focusing on those two years is not sufficient to fully understand the problem and may present a skewed picture.
For instance, we also studied changes in the annual homicide clearance rate in KCMO from 2017 to 2022 as of March 2023, which tells a drastically different story from our analysis of change in homicide clearance rate from 2018-2019 to 2020-2021:
We cannot forget that our community struggles in reducing high levels of violence – for all demographic groups – and in solving more fatal and non-fatal shootings, especially for Black females and males. Kansas City, let’s not forget, is one of the deadliest U.S. cities by homicide rate.
Why? The Wall Street Journal suggested staffing shortages in law enforcement, the pandemic and widening distrust between police and urban communities may be among the most obvious reasons. We agree that rebuilding trust between community and its public safety system will be crucial to addressing our high-violence problem. A disparity exists for black male victims and black female victims. I am instituting a new plan in my office that may help when a case reaches the prosecutor’s office. The initial charging decision will mask the race of a defendant or victim to the prosecutor reviewing the case. This new “race-blind charging” system will be monitored and studied by Stanford-Labs to determine our own level of bias and suggest necessary changes.
I want to also invite community members to engage us in a new way. We are looking now for persons to serve on our Community Advisory Board, which advises our office in a variety of ways. New ways to protect black female victims would be an important discussion for that group. Please click on this link to send an email to my office about your interest in serving.
Finally, I want all readers to know I much look forward to your comments, especially suggestions for improvement. We will internally review each comment.