Security matters. People who live in fear cannot have trust. The legitimacy of a government depends on trust. In Kansas City, the homicide rate soars. Citizenís perception of safety is at an all time low. (Note 1) Violence appears to be escalating. Killing occurs without reason as demonstrated by the murder of Robert Osborn who was shot "for fun" while riding his bicycle home from work. Kansas City is not safe, diminishing the public trust and undermining the ability of public officials to create positive change.
There are many definitions of what constitutes a safe city. Perception of safety varies according to location, making consensus difficult. Many people look to the declining overall crime rate and wonder why the city seems unsafe. Crime has to be broken down into categories. Victimization rates in many categories are unacceptably high. Kansas Cityís 2005 homicide rate is one of the highest in the nation on a per capita basis among large cities. The rate is about four times higher than New York City.
Crime and disorder reduction is an essential component of producing a safe environment. Safe Streets, Safe City synthesizes proven anti-crime strategies and discussions with local government officials. A safe Kansas City literally starts one block or street at a time. Public spaces must be secure. Citizens need to pursue their day-to-day activities without fear of victimization. Security is a fundamental right.
Safe Streets, Safe City is as much an attitude as a program. As an attitude, it sends the message that the City is going to get tough on crime. Criminals need to live in fear, not citizens. Key points of this plan include:
Set goals - Create a vision that incorporates an understanding of what the City would be like with a reduced crime rate. Establish goals that relate to each crime category. Begin with the International City Manager Association (ICMA) average benchmarks for crime. For example, Kansas City had 13.8 violent crimes per capita, second to Oakland, and 78 percent above the ICMA average for cities similar in size.(Note 2) Initially, the goal should be to reduce violent crimes by 78 percent to the ICMA average of 7.8 violent crimes per capita.
Practice zero-tolerance (positive) policing - Pursue minor crimes with the same intensity as violent crimes. Reduce quality-of-life crimes. This "broken windows" approach fights community indifference and disorder before more serious crime ensues. (Note 3)
Zero tolerance is also an attitude. A certain level of crime should not be accepted as the status quo. A zero homicide rate may seem unrealistic but, in attempting to achieve this goal, a better understanding of what it takes will be acquired.
Remove known criminals - Conduct arrest sweeps of warrant and parole violators. The police know who the "bad guys" are. Target surveillance and undercover activities to these individuals. Behavior that does not adhere to the core values of society needs to be eradicated.
Encourage citizen participation - Keep neighborhoods safe with citizen involvement. Kansas City covers too large a land area for comprehensive police patrol. Citizens need to report crime and supply evidence. Silence kills. Public relation campaigns should emphasize doing the right thing. Citizens can build a stronger community by helping law enforcement organizations apprehend criminals.
Target more resources to high-risk areas - Deploy police resources according to demand. Distribute police to crime-ridden areas during high-incident times. Civilianize administrative positions in the Police Department where feasible, making more officers available for street-level activities.
Kansas City is at a tipping point. The City can become great or spiral downward into a refuge for criminals and despair. Billions of dollars have been invested in the City, but people may not use this investment because it is unsafe. A high crime rate destroys the reputation of the City, increasing the difficulty of attracting future investment. Without sustained investment, the Cityís quality of life deteriorates. Civility suffers.
1. City Auditorís Office, City of Kansas City, Missouri, City Services Performance Report for Fiscal Year 2004,
May 2005, 76. Go to http://www.kcmo.org/auditor/04-05audits/cityservices04.pdf
2. City Auditorís Office, City of Kansas City, Missouri, City Services Performance Report for Fiscal Year 2004,
31. (Comparisons are based on 2003 data.)
3. "Broken windows" theory was first introduced by professors James Q. Wilson and George Kelling. This theory is based on the observation that a house with one broken window symbolizes indifference, if left unrepaired. Eventually all of the windows will be broken. Analogously, disorder eventually breeds larger and more pervasive criminal activity unless action is taken early.