In 2016, Kansas recorded the most homicides in our state’s history, causing many of us in the criminal justice system to be deeply concerned.
In 2017, Topeka, with a population of 127,000, reported 30 homicides, an all-time high for our state’s capital. Tulsa, a city close in population size to Wichita, reported a record 82 homicides in 2016 and 81 homicides in 2017. In comparison, as of October 2018, Wichita has investigated 40 homicides, with seven of them ruled as justifiable. It is important to note that Wichita Police Department homicide detectives have solved over 80 percent of our cases this year. The national average for solving homicides is 59 percent; historically, the larger the city, the lower the solvability rate.
Since 2012, violent assaults in Wichita have doubled. One of the major concerns to this trend is that we continue to see guns stolen from cars, homes and businesses each year. Alarmingly, these cases total over 1,000 a year. To put this into perspective, the two shootings of law enforcement officers in Sedgwick County this year involved guns stolen from vehicles.
Those of us in law enforcement accept that a small number of habitual offenders and illegal drug users and traffickers are behind the majority of our property and violent crime trends. In response to this ongoing concern, our department created Community Response Teams to focus exclusively on drugs, guns, gangs and the habitual offenders who are driving these numbers up. These teams consist of professional, well-trained officers who are focusing on our most violent offenders and active drug traffickers. Our officers are working around the clock to identify and arrest those who are terrorizing our neighborhoods and causing chaos in our community.
Another major focus of our crime-reduction strategy involves working closer with our neighborhoods and having officers embrace the community-policing philosophy. Officers are meeting and engaging with residents, getting to know them and encouraging them to work with us to report suspicious activity, which ultimately helps prevent and reduce crime. Recently, officers and neighbors have been working together by going door to door in areas that have seen a steady increase in violent crime to encourage others to come forward. It is this effort of working together that encourages others to “say something if they see something” and report crime to the police.
We have also been partnering with youth organizations to provide more opportunities to get our youth off the street and give them safe places to gather and have fun. In partnership with the YMCA, we help with “Late Night” on Saturday nights for teens to hang out at the south Y and get them off the streets. The results have been very positive and as a result, the YMCA is expanding this program to multiple locations across the city.
We are also partnering with the Boys & Girls Club to find ways to prevent youth from joining gangs. We are working to fund gang prevention efforts to target at-risk youth to reduce the likelihood of them joining a gang.
We’ve partnered with Kansas U.S. Attorney Steve McAlister on Project Safe Neighborhoods, a collaborative approach to public safety that combines law enforcement and community partnerships with strategic enforcement efforts to focus on the most violent criminals in the most violent areas within each district. The program’s goal is to reduce violent crime and make our communities safer for everyone. The program builds on successful programs already in place or, where prior efforts have atrophied, creates new, effective violence-reduction programs. The U.S. Attorney’s Office is adding additional prosecutors to assist in this effort.
This violent crime trend in our region demands an increased response from everyone, including residents, businesses, nonprofit groups and government organizations. Solid research and increased collaboration is needed to answer the question of “what is driving the increase in violent crime?” It is also imperative to stay away from the unproductive trap of finger pointing and continue to strive forward together in partnership to keep our communities safe.
Gordon Ramsay is Wichita chief of police.