by Mary Wilson
The entire country is feeling the heat this summer, and not just because of the rising temperatures. Violence has impacted every community, including Kansas City.
“In July of 2016, it is a hard time to talk about violence reduction,” Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker said to a crowded room of community members.
The South Kansas City Alliance on Monday evening hosted Peters Baker, along with County Executive Frank White, Sheriff Mike Sharp and Legislator Dan Tarwater, to provide county-wide updates that may have an effect on South KC.
“There are some prosecutors and some police officers that think that violence is just something we have to accept and that there’s nothing we can do about it,” said Peters Baker. “That’s just wrong.”
Since becoming prosecutor, Peters Baker has made an effort to expand the partnership between her office, the police and into the community with pastors, neighborhood associations and citizens. They have called upon the help of the metro as a whole to engage in the effort of violence reduction, creating the No Violence Alliance, or NoVA.
“It can feel like a tough time right now,” said Peters Baker. “We are all feeling the weight and the burden of violence in our city and in our country. I don’t believe that there is nothing we can do about violence.”
She added that because violence has been looked at through a particular scope for so long, other options have been neglected for reducing violence. Prosecutors and law enforcement continue to look for ways to engage the community.
“We have to own, as law enforcement officers, that we have lost some of the public’s trust,” said Peters Baker. “We want to build it back through real programs that really help, that are credible and that are designed to help neighborhoods help themselves.”
In 2014, at the infant stages of the NoVA, Jackson County’s homicide level was reduced to a 40-year low. Some ground was lost, according to Peters Baker, when the Ferguson case happened, which shifted some focus and some credibility that was being established.
“I know that there is far more that unites us than divides us, even on our worst day,” said Peters Baker. “We are Americans and we have faced tough times before. We have looked in the face of strife, faced it and moved through it a stronger country. We are in the middle of a heated debate, but sometimes that can take us to a better place if we listen.”
White added that now is the time to make some positive changes in the community, and the County has made efforts to promote positive quality of life experiences for everyone, including parks, trails and other county assets.
“If we make it important to us, it becomes important to those around us,” said White. “I’m not a big status quo guy, and as an elected official, I don’t have the time to make big changes. You have to go in and make your points clear, be able to delegate and get out of the way and let your people do their jobs.”
Tarwater suggested that community members reach out to the county legislators to voice concerns and share interests. It is the legislature’s job to then find ways to implement programs and other suggestions in the county.
“Your needs are the needs of Jackson County,” said Tarwater. “We look at ways, probably for the past ten years or more, to do more with less.”
He added that the money tied into the drug prevention programming all ties into violence reduction. While some may argue that the county doesn’t have the best solutions in place to combat drugs and violence, Tarwater suggested coming up with alternatives and looking at different options.
“I want to hear about it; we all do,” said Tarwater. “That’s how we find out what works.”
Sharp, who formerly worked for the Kansas City Police Department, said that since he became Sheriff, he has worked to unite the law enforcement departments. He added that there was a “turf” war between departments.
“I don’t step on your turf, you don’t step on mine. Criminals don’t live by that rule; they travel,” said Sharp. “We now work very closely with the Kansas City Police Department, Lee’s Summit, all of the local agencies.”
The Sheriff’s department has become a support unit for the other agencies when they are low on manpower, such as during the World Series. Sharp also sits on the Governor-appointed board that oversees statewide drug task force dollars.
“The Jackson County Drug Task Force, funded by COMBAT, and the drug task force through the Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners, are the two top-rated drug task force units in the state,” said Sharp. “We recover more narcotics and more money than all other drug task forces combined.”
Sharp added that without tax support and support from local police departments, that would not have been possible.
The panel was united in the county’s efforts to reduce violence, and all spoke of garnering feedback from the community. More information on NoVA, COMBAT and the legislature’s priorities can be found on www.jacksongov.org.