Crime & Courts

Had Wichita’s crime rate stayed flat, state violence rate might be down. Instead, it rose

The number of violent crimes in Wichita increased more than the total increase reported statewide last year.

Overall, Wichita logged 4,631 violent crimes in 2018 — up 645 crimes from the prior year.

The state as a whole, meanwhile, reported a total of 12,367 violent crimes last year, up 625 crimes from 2017.

Had Wichita’s rates stayed flat, the statewide violent crime rate might have remained steady, or even dropped slightly.

Instead, it increased.

The statistics, part of the Kansas Bureau of Investigation’s 2018 Kansas Crime Index published last week, illustrate a continued upward trend in violence that has plagued the city in recent years, even as the Wichita Police Department has looked for ways to reverse course.

The jumps were worrisome enough that the department has joined the National Public Safety Partnership, a selective federal initiative aimed at reducing violent crime in places with rates significantly above the national average.

At a news conference July 23, officials from the department and the U.S. Department of Justice couldn’t give specifics on how it will combat violence in Wichita, saying it’s too early to tell given its highly tailored approach.

Yet, they are confident it will produce results.

Even though several areas across Kansas saw a decline in the total number of violent crimes, the state overall experienced a 5.3% increase, the KBI’s 2018 Kansas Crime Index shows.

Wichita, by comparison, saw a 16.2% hike — more than three times the state average. In 2017, Wichita’s violent crime rate was nearly three times the national average.

The city also saw a slight increase in overall property crime — up almost 1.5% from 2017, the report shows — as property offenses statewide slid down 2% year over year.

In response to a message seeking comment about the new data, police spokesman Officer Kevin Wheeler pointed to the National Public Safety Partnership and other programs and changes in the department.

“Since 2018, we have proactively taken steps to address the violent crime rate in Wichita, and the steps have yielded positive results,” he said by email.

“Year to date data (for 2019) shows that the majority of violent crime offenses have significantly decreased. Homicides are down 32%. Rape is down 10%. Robbery is down 26%, and aggravated assaults are down 2%.”

“We recognized the increase in violent crime and reallocated our resources to work collectively in targeting violent offenders. We also continue to collaborate with federal partners in identifying methods and practices that would better serve our community,” he said.

Violent crime includes murders, rapes, robberies and aggravated assaults and batteries. Under the FBI’s definition of murder, which the KBI uses, murder does not include killings deemed justified such as police shootings, suicides, accidental deaths or deaths caused by negligence.

Property crimes include burglaries, thefts and motor vehicle thefts.

Broken down, the KBI report shows Wichita in 2018 had an average of:

  • 12 to 13 violent crimes reported to police every day and nearly 61 property crimes logged daily. Property crimes include burglaries, thefts and motor vehicle thefts.
  • About three murders a month (38 total compared to 35 in 2017)
  • Rapes occurring a little less often than once a day (349 total compared to 333 in 2017)
  • Slightly more than 11 robberies a week (580 total compared to 603 in 2017)
  • About 10 aggravated assaults and batteries a day (3,664 total compared to 3,015 in 2017)

The report also shows:

  • The jump in aggravated assaults and batteries in Wichita far outpaced increases in other violent crime categories, rising about 21.5% year over year. Statewide, the increase in aggravated assaults and batteries was about a third of that – around 7.8%.
  • The only crime categories that didn’t increase in 2018 in Wichita were robberies — down 3.8% — and thefts, which fell just over a tenth of a percent to 16,040 reports for the year.
  • Arsons, which are listed on the KBI’s report but aren’t figured into any crime index totals, increased from 103 to 139 reports in Wichita, a 35% jump.
  • Wichita’s estimated population increased less than two-tenths of a percent from 2017 to 2018, while overall crime (violent and property combined) increased a total of 3.7%.
  • Property crimes account for the overwhelming majority of Wichita’s crime, about 82 out of every 100 reports. WPD received a total of 22,167 property crime reports overall last year.
  • Wichita has 37.5% of the state’s violent crimes and 27.8% of its property crimes but only 13% of its population.

Local law enforcement officials have long blamed the rising crime rate in Wichita on gangs, drug use and untreated or under-treated mental illness.

More recently, Wichita police have said domestic violence — attacks between family members or intimate partners — is also driving up assault and battery numbers.

“A majority of these incidents were considered to be domestic violence or crimes committed by known suspects,” Wheeler, the police spokesman, wrote.

“WPD’s goal is to continually find ways to drive our crime numbers down.”

The KBI, in a news release accompanying the crime index, cited an increase in rape reports and aggravated assaults statewide as contributing to the rising violence.

While concerning, “the report suggests the rise in crime that Kansas has experienced since 2014 may be starting to slow,” the release said.

“For instance, murder and robbery declined (statewide) in 2018, compared to the prior year. Across the state 146 murders occurred, significantly fewer than the 176 murders in 2017, when the murder rate reached the highest (level) in a decade.”

In addition to joining the National Public Safety Partnership, the Wichita Police Department has hired crime analysts, centralized its Violent Crimes Task Force members, asked people to save spent ammunition to help identify stolen firearms used in crimes and taken other steps to help curtail the crime rates.

So far in 2019, Wichita Police Chief Gordon Ramsay has said, the changes seem to be working.

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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.