New KCMO public safety plan announced; Citizens left with more questions than answers

Rebecca Bayley

9/30/2020- Kansas City, Missouri

Kansas City Missouri mayor Quinton Lucas

Photo by Andrei Stoica

At a press conference this afternoon, Kansas City, Missouri mayor Quinton Lucas announced a new set of strategies the city will use to prevent and address crime in Kansas City.

Kansas City Health Department Violence Prevention and Policy Manager Dr. Marvia Jones, Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker, and Chief of Police Richard Smith joined him.

The new public safety plan comprises four “pillars” of strategy city officials say will help address crime more holistically: prevention, intervention, enforcement, and reform. Mayor Lucas, Smith, and Baker emphasized the need for collaboration with the community and other local agencies to decrease violence in Kansas City, as well as the need to humanize those who are involved in crime.

Lucas stated goals of the strategy include improvement of several key metrics, including clearance rates for violent crimes, citizen satisfaction ratings, and trust between law enforcement and witnesses or victims of a crime.

According to the mayor, the process for engaging with the community will be two-fold. “We have 200-plus neighborhood associations in Kansas City, Missouri,” Lucas said. “The first thing we do is we make sure that we find a way to connect with each one.”

The second step, he said, would consist of “listening to folks.” “We know the challenges,” Lucas said. “We want to spend three months hearing … some of the real solutions. What are the real things that people think can address an issue?”

As part of the engagement plan, the city has scheduled several community meetings. These range from “neighborhood walking tours” in specific communities to town halls covering specific components of the four-pillared plan. One entitled “Law Enforcement in the Community” is scheduled for October 17 at 11 a.m. The location has not yet been announced.

Neither Mayor Lucas nor Chief Rick Smith addressed the most recent calls for police accountability by local activists. The last statement about accountability on the city’s website dates to June 4. Around the same time, the Kansas City Police Department announced it would purchase body cameras to increase public accountability of the police force. They recently issued another update indicating the cameras would be implemented by early 2021.

Asked whether citizens will have easy access to body camera footage once they are implemented, Lucas responded that the city is still working out the details of how body camera footage will be stored and used, but stated, “I always like more information and access than less.”

The predominant questions issued at the press briefing were regarding cuts to staffing and services provided by the city as a result of the budget shortfall the city is currently facing. On this issue, Lucas was reticent. "We have a lot of time to talk about budget issues. I would hope that over the six months we all get together on a collaborative approach to how we can address the financing issues.” Pressed for details, he said he believes cutting administrative costs may help the city avoid laying off a large number of employees.

Another common question was to do with ongoing concerns regarding local activist groups being left out of the process of engagement.

In her speech, Baker noted the absence of several community leaders from the press briefing, including the NAACP, the Urban League, the SCLC, the ACLU, and local religious groups, stating “They don’t trust us.” She added, “So for those groups … I’ll be contacting them to see how we might be able to work together on this issue.”

Mayor Lucas likewise said, “For those who aren’t here … Work with us to make this community safer. We will all listen to your ideas.”

One attendee to the press briefing specifically asked the mayor how he plans to rebuild trust with activist groups who feel their trust has been violated. He answered, “One step at a time.”

Asked if he was concerned that some groups didn’t receive more than 48 hours’ notice that the press briefing would be taking place and that their presence was requested, Lucas responded, “If we play the game of who is most respected or slighted then I think we’re kind of missing the point. … Every one of those community groups and community leaders, I’ve probably met with.”

Local activist Sheryl Ferguson of ItsTime4Justice was present at the press briefing and shared her perspective. “To me, truthfully, it’s the same old nice talking points, things that they could do for camera time,” she said. “For the organizations that Jean mentioned, why is it that she didn’t make a better effort to communicate with them?”

“I know that Urban League would have had no problem with being here,” Ferguson pointed out. “I know the NAACP would absolutely want to have reform. I know the SCLC has been in these streets with us about these various things.” She added, “The real work comes in … when the camera’s not around.”

Published on: 9/30/2020