By Glenn E. Rice
Kansas City's struggle with increasing violent crime is ringing alarms all the way to the top of the U.S. Justice Department.
Federal authorities on Tuesday named Kansas City as one of 12 cities that will receive federal help and services as part of a national effort to combat violent crime.
The cities chosen have been suffering levels of violence far exceeding the national average, Department of Justice spokesman Devin O'Malley said.
This year has been particularly brutal in Kansas City, with 66 homicides through June 20. That pace would lead to 140 for the year, which would be the most in the city since the number of murders eclipsed 150 in the early 1990s.
The assistance is part of the newly formed National Public Safety Partnership. The announcement was made during the opening session of a national summit organized by the U.S. attorney general's task force on crime reduction and public safety.
Details on how and in what areas the federal government would help Kansas City were not specified.
The 12 cities were chosen for their high rates of crime, but also for demonstrating a commitment to reducing violent crime and readiness to receive the special training and assistance, O'Malley said.
Kansas City is thankful for the aid and eager to collaborate, said Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker.
"We were asked a few months ago to share information about (the Kansas City No Violence Alliance), as well as any concerns about decreasing violence in our city," Baker said in a written statement. "We are hopeful (the federal assistance) will benefit our city and make it a safer and better place."
Kansas City police announced Monday they plan to reassign officers from various units to patrol and target high crime areas in four small, geographic locations throughout the city. The effort is designed to combat an increase in homicides, gun violence and other street crime.
Not just homicides are plaguing Kansas City. Non-fatal shootings have increased 64 percent from 2014 to 2016, and drive-by shootings are up 51 percent from last year.
The additional officers will patrol neighborhoods that have seen an increase in drive-by shootings, traffic fatalities and crimes.
The help from the federal programming is welcomed but needs to be creative in the attempt to help communities heal, said Damon Daniel, president of the AdHoc Group Against Crime.
"If it is just investing in policing...we can't arrest our way out of what we're dealing with," Daniel said.
The city needs help confronting poverty, he said, supporting livable wages, ending food deserts and creating pathways for young people to quality education and jobs, he said.
"We've got to really get upstream and deal with the root cause of what's happening here," he said.
The other cities that will receive federal funding are Birmingham, Ala.; Indianapolis; Memphis, Tenn.; Buffalo, N.Y.; Baton Rouge, La.; Houston; Jackson, Tenn.; Lansing, Mich.; Springfield, Ill.; and Toledo and Cincinnati in Ohio.
Chicago and Baltimore, which have been hit hard by gun violence and homicides this year, were not on the list, but the Justice Department said more cities could eventually be added.
The Justice Department this year created a federal partnership and task force in response to a presidential executive order signed in February tasking the department with leading a national effort to reduce violent crime.
"Turning back the recent troubling increase in violent crime in our country is a top priority of the Department of Justice and the Trump Administration, as we work to fulfill the President's promise to make America safe again," Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a written statement announcing the funding for the 12 cities. "The Department of Justice will work with American cities suffering from serious violent crime problems. There is no doubt that there are many strategies that are proven to reduce crime."
"Our new National Public Safety Partnership program will help these communities build up their own capacity to fight crime, by making use of data-driven, evidence-based strategies tailored to specific local concerns, and by drawing upon the expertise and resources of our Department," Sessions said.
(c)2017 The Kansas City Star (Kansas City, Mo.)