Youth Master Plan, Public Health Campaign Among Anti-Violence Task Force Recommendations

Apr 20, 2017

Kansas City councilwoman Jolie Justus chaired Mayor Sly James' Citizens Task Force on Violence, which released its final report Thursday. Behind her is Councilwoman Alissia Canady, also on the task force, who was caught in violence this week.
Credit Peggy Lowe / KCUR 89.3

A youth master plan, a public health campaign and storefront community resource centers were among the recommendations unveiled Thursday by Mayor Sly James’ Citizens Task Force on Violence.

After more than a year of study and 12 public meetings, the committee found that there are already many efforts underway in the city aimed at preventing violence.

“Kansas City has all the tools right now to address these issues. We have all the tools that we need,” said Councilwoman Jolie Justus, who chaired the task force. “What we need to do right now is start having community-based conversations about how we leverage those tools.”

Kansas City saw 128 homicides last year – up from 111 in 2015 – and more than 200 metro-wide. The FBI says violence is up nationally and puts the blame on seven cities, including Kansas City.

The study found, James says, that there are lots of people trying to combat crime.

“But all too often it takes place in silos where people aren’t talking to each other where there’s not coordination, where there’s not a collaborative effort,” he says.  

One of the task force’s recommendations is to create a full-time staff position to coordinate the city’s violence prevention efforts, which James says he already has in his budget.

Everyone must look at the rise in violence as a public health concern. We’ve learned in the past with other social problems that with education, the situation can improve, Justus says.

“Let’s think back to drunk driving. Let’s think back to tobacco cessation,” Justus says. “We need to be thinking about violence in our community as a public health issue and we need to address that through public engagement and a public service campaign.”

Councilwoman Alissia Canady, a member of the task force, told a personal story to illustrate the larger problem. On Tuesday night, Canady was on the way to her local corner store when she got caught in a rolling gun battle at 57th and Swope Parkway. She wasn’t hit – although she says she was “terrified” -- but a seven-year-old boy in the backseat of his father’s car was injured, she says.

“Thankfully, he didn’t have any life-threatening injuries,” Canady says. “He was grazed by the left side of his head, which is just the grace of God. Which is how I explain my experience as well.”

Canady says people need to be honest about the reasons behind the rise in gun violence, like substance abuse, mental health problems and anger issues.

“We can no longer stand by and say 'woe is them.' Because it’s really woe is us,” Canady says. “And for us to really be a caring Kansas City, we all have to be part of the solution.”

Other recommendations made by the Citizens Task Force on Violence can be found here in the final report.

Peggy Lowe is KCUR's investigations editor. She can be found on Twitter at @peggyllowe.