Crime & Courts

Officials hint at how city will use program aimed at reducing violent crime

Doubling down on efforts to fight violence, Wichita Police Department and U.S. Department of Justice officials announced the launch of the National Public Safety Partnership, a local-federal initiative aimed at reducing crime.

The police and justice departments aren’t sure yet what exactly they will do with the program in Wichita. It’s too early to say given the partnership’s approach of tailoring itself to the needs of a participating community.

But officials who spoke about the launch at a press conference Tuesday at Wichita City Hall gave a few hints about what might come.

U.S. Attorney Stephen McAllister said Wichita’s partnership will emphasize new technology to “analyze local crime trends, identify hot spots and rapidly process crime scene data.” Forensic firearms analysis will be a big part of that, he added.

Police Chief Gordon Ramsay said he wants the partnership to focus on the city’s methamphetamine problem and the role mental health plays in police calls and crime. But he also said he has a goal to build a gun crime intelligence center that would help tie firearms used in violent crimes to the criminals responsible.

One step the department has already taken toward that goal is to ask gun owners and dealers to save spent ammunition to make it easier to identify stolen weapons. And soon, the department will have a machine that can analyze and match those casings.

“While it sounds simple, it’s quite a process to put all those pieces together,” Ramsay said.

Excitement around just what the National Public Safety Partnership will bring to the city has grown since June when officials announced that Wichita was among 10 cities selected as 2019 participants. The partnership, a three-year program established through an executive order in 2017, won’t give grant money to Wichita but will instead provide free, cutting-edge expertise and technical training for its police department.

Much of the knowledge about what works is expected to come from other law enforcement agencies that have had success cutting crime rates in their own communities.

“This is better than money ... because we’re going to train people and that training doesn’t leave them when the money runs out,” Wichita Mayor Jeff Longwell said during the news conference.

“It’s going to stay with them for a very long time.”

In total, 40 cities have joined the National Public Safety Partnership since its inception. To be accepted, cities must have a violent crime rate significantly above the national average and submit an application detailing their problems as well as steps they’re already taking to curb it.

Wichita’s application offered bleak numbers: The city experienced a “precipitous increase” in violent crime in recent years, it said — ballooning to nearly three times the 2017 national average of 382.9 violent crimes per 100,000 residents. That includes a steady climb in shootings and jumps in murders, rapes and aggravated assaults.

McAllister said officials will know more about how exactly Wichita will implement the partnership after they attend a three-day meeting in Memphis, Tennessee in September. There, officials will talk to other participating cities, learn what they’ve done to tackle their violent crime problems and see “what we think fits,” he said.

Then, within the first year, the partnership will develop a tailored program for Wichita that it can refine and build on.

“We don’t know all the pieces yet. But they are coming,” McAllister said. “And it won’t be that long I think before we have the specific pieces.”

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Amy Renee Leiker has been reporting for The Wichita Eagle since 2010. She covers crime, courts and breaking news and updates the newspaper’s online databases. You can reach her at 316-268-6644. She’s an avid reader and mom of three in her non-work time.