Politics & Government

Murder in Kansas up 46 percent since 2014

Murder in Kansas is up 46 percent since 2014, the Kansas Bureau of Investigation said Tuesday.
Murder in Kansas is up 46 percent since 2014, the Kansas Bureau of Investigation said Tuesday. The Wichita Eagle

Murder in Kansas rose 46 percent from 2014 to 2016. Rape was up 11 percent. Robberies increased 26 percent.

Overall, violent crime is on the rise in Kansas.

The Kansas Bureau of Investigation briefed lawmakers Tuesday as part of the previously-scheduled hearing. But the statistics took on a fresh urgency after high-profile episodes of violence across the state over the past few weeks.

A shooting killed three and injured two others on a busy night in downtown Lawrence this weekend. Last Thursday, Topeka police shot and killed a man who the agency said was fleeing from officers and had reached into a pocket with a firearm.

And last month, a shooting at a Wichita tax office left a state employee in critical condition.

“We’re in the second year of an increasing trend, and we want to make sure we do everything in our power to reverse that trend and knock the crime rates back down,” KBI director Kirk Thompson said.

Kansas saw 148 murders in 2016, according to KBI figures. That’s the highest number since 2000.

The number of murders is nearly 25 percent above the 10-year average.

More than 14 percent involved multiple murders in a single incident. Nearly 13 percent were classified as domestic violence homicides.

In 2016, the number of rapes stood at 1,125. That’s slightly less than in 2015, but still higher than the 1,012 in 2014.

According to the KBI, 157 aggravated sex crimes were reported by jurisdictions with no investigators and that the cases were not worked by the KBI. They could still be worked by other agencies, however, or by other officers, according to Ed Klumpp, a Kansas law enforcement lobbyist.

The KBI doesn’t have specific reasons for the increases in violent crime, said Katie Whisman, an executive officer at the KBI. But she said there is a clear connection between drug trafficking and violent crime.

Violent crime is rising nationwide as well. The FBI said last week that violent crime increased in 2016 for the second consecutive year.

Nationally, violent crime remains well below levels seen in previous decades, however.

Crime rates ebb and flow and crime has been in a downward trend for a long time, said Klumpp.

“So to see an uptick isn’t unusual or unexpected at some point. It’s good to remember that even with the increases, we’re well below the numbers where we were years ago,” Klumpp said.

Lawmakers on the Joint Committee on Kansas Security, which received the KBI briefing, expressed concerns over the agency’s ability to keep up with the workload. The KBI said it is focusing resources on the most serious crimes, with the agency refusing to take some types of offenses, such as white collar crimes, unless they involve a public official.

Agent overtime has surged since 2012, when overtime pay totaled less than $37,000. It rose to more than $300,000 last year – a 733 percent increase.

Additionally, the number of funded agent positions has been slowly declining, from nearly 100 in fiscal years 2009 and 2010 to 74 today.

At the same time, the number of cases completed within 90 days is trending down. More than 50 percent of cases were completed within 90 days in the first quarter of fiscal year 2013. By the third quarter of fiscal year 2017, less than 30 percent were completed within that timeframe.

“It’s not just pay. Our people are overworked. It’s a combination of both,” Whisman said.

Sen. John Doll, R-Garden City, called the presentation scary.

“I think the answer’s pretty clear: we don’t have enough money,” Doll said.

Rep. Kevin Jones, R-Wellsville, chairs the committee. He said the information was disconcerting.

“We’re dealing with a whole, whole, whole lot more just in our society – not just Kansas but across the nation,” Jones said.

Sen. Lynn Rogers, D-Wichita, said he is concerned about the KBI’s capacity and said staffing challenges there present a serious security issue for the state.

“We’re not taking care of our more vulnerable citizens,” Rogers said. “Crimes aren’t being investigated like they should be.”

Jonathan Shorman: 785-296-3006, @jonshorman

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