KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Just three years after Kansas City, Missouri, was being hailed for reducing homicides, the city is seeing a staggering increase in 2017.
The Kansas City Star reports that 149 people have been killed in homicides this year, the highest total since a record 153 in 1993, at the height of killings fueled by crack cocaine and gangs.
The city's efforts to reduce homicides drew national attention in 2014, when just 82 killings occurred. But Kansas City had 111 homicides in 2015, 131 last year, and the trend worsened in 2017.
It's a big problem on both sides of the state. St. Louis this year has topped 200 killings for the first time in more than two decades.
The story is different in many other places. The murder rate in the nation's 30 largest cities is estimated to be down about 5.6 percent from last year, according to a recent analysis by the Brennan Center for Justice.
Chicago's murder rate is down about 12 percent after two years of big increases. Detroit is projected to see a decrease of nearly 10 percent. New York is seeing the lowest homicide total since reliable records have been kept: 286 as of Wednesday.
New York officials credited a police focus on gangs and repeat offenders. But Kansas City's No Violence Alliance takes a similar approach without the same results.
In 2014, Kansas City law enforcement leaders hailed the No Violence Alliance as a catalyst that led to the lower number of killings in nearly five decades. The effort relies on a tactic called "focused deterrence." Members of a criminal network are identified and police tell them their actions can have unintended consequences for others in their cliques. Those who want to pull away from criminal affiliations are offered help through social services.
Nearly half of Kansas City homicides with known motives in 2017 were ignited by arguments, police data show. Two-thirds of the known killers were ages 17 to 34. Nine out of 10 were male. Three-fourths were black. Victims, too, were mostly young black men. The murder weapon was a firearm in about 85 percent of cases.
Nearly half of the city's 2017 homicides remain unsolved.
Experts are perplexed about what is fueling the killings.
"There are not necessarily any noticeable trends," police spokeswoman Capt. Stacey Graves said, "just more homicides."
The Rev. Elder Lawrence Walls spoke at the funeral of a recent homicide victim.
"We're picking up bodies riddled with bullets," Walls said. "And everywhere there is grief."
Information from: The Kansas City Star, http://www.kcstar.com