Anti-violence task force, east patrol commander report to city council

File photo. Citizens Task Force on Justice.

File photo. Citizens Task Force on Violence.

The city council neighborhood and public safety committee got updates on fighting violent crime today, but no easy answers.

Councilwoman Jolie Justus, chair of the new Citizens Task Force on Violence, was asked why her 19-member group would be any different than such past panels.

“The alternative is to stop trying,” she said. “I don’t think that is an option.”

Her panel that includes professionals, social workers, educators, elected officials, clergy and others is to make recommendations by November.

It also takes testimony and comments from citizens at meetings on the second Tuesday of each month or at

They will put fresh eyes on the problem and try to see things that have been missed in the past, said Justus, a former state legislator who oversaw a rewrite of state criminal laws.

The task force appointed by the mayor came in response to a homicide count of 109 last year, compared to a near record low of 81 the year before.

Even in years when homicides are down, it doesn’t mean citizens are safe, Justus said. Skilled trauma surgeons who get much practice save lives of many gunshot victims, she said, and her panel will also study first-degree assaults.

Councilwoman Alissa Canady of the 5th District praised Justus for taking on the job and spoke of the ties between blight, poverty and crime.

In another report to the committee, Major Joe McHale, new commander of the east patrol police district, released some disturbing homicide numbers.

The homicide rate nationwide is 4.6 per 100,000 people, compared to a 23.3 rate in all of Kansas City and to a 55 rate in the 45.5 square miles in the east patrol area.

He is making efforts to get police more involved in the community, he said, but the constant homicides pull officers away to deal with them.

“We can be creative, we can work with community groups, we just need the time to do it,” he said.

The city has assigned a codes officer to work with his officers in helping attack blight, he said.

And he is also going to get input from citizens on where to deploy officers for hot spot policing.

Councilman Quinton Lucas asked McHale if his officers have established relationships with the wide diversity of people in east patrol, which includes many Hispanics and people from places like Vietnam, Somalia, and Nigeria.

Regarding that, McHale said, “We’ve got a lot of work to do.”

Given limited resources, he said, police intelligence information and planning are critical.

“We need to really drill down and make arrests that matter,” he said, while also working with code inspectors and prosecutors to make a difference, “a block at a time.”

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