By LESLIE COLLINS
February 6, 2013
Lightning flashed in the distance as Kansas City police officers and FBI agents gathered in darkness at the command post in Historic Northeast.
Dawn had yet to break when teams began to form for Operation Clean Sweep Jan. 29, a new initiative targeted at criminal social networks instead of geographical areas. The two-day sweep focused on a small social network comprised of 360 individuals carrying significant influence in Historic Northeast. Among the group were homicide suspects, those on probation or parole, prostitutes, juveniles, drug dealers, among others. It was all part of Kansas City No Violence Alliance (KC NoVA) which launched in May of 2012 and aims to reduce Kansas City’s violent crime rate.
On kick-off day, Jan. 29, officers knocked on doors as the skies let loose a steady downpour. The sun didn’t shine that day, almost foreshadowing what was to come. Within less than a 48-hour period that week, Kansas City racked up seven homicides, including a double homicide in Northeast near Budd Park. In the Northeast homicide, police found 27-year-old Brian G. Cunningham and 31-year-old Therman Lacy III inside a vehicle, shot to death.
Northeast News rode along with Operation Clean Sweep Team No. 9, which knocked on a number of houses in Northeast. Some homes were vacant and at some locations, neighbors said the individual moved away. Around 10 a.m., officers knocked on a door in the 3000 block of Agnes and arrested a 21-year-old male, who had three traffic warrants and was on probation.
“This is crazy,” the 21-year-old said several times as he stood in handcuffs near the doorway.
This was a wake-up call for the 21-year-old and 16 others who were arrested during the two-day sweep. Among those arrested were suspects in multiple homicides and as a result of the sweep, three Kansas City men were charged in the Nov. 10, 2012, murder of 31-year-old Willis O. Todd, who was shot in the chest in the parking lot of 2103 Lexington.
In addition to the arrests, police cleared 49 warrants, filed 15 new charges and recovered 4.5 grams of cocaine, 200 pills and 224 grams of marijuana.
During a Jan. 30 press conference, officials further detailed KC NoVA and Kansas City’s history of violent crime.
“It’s been a bloody 24 hours in Kansas City,” Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters-Baker said during the press conference.
At that point, four people had been murdered during the past 24 hours and about an hour before the press conference, Kansas City police were investigating another double homicide. Hours after the press conference, a 32-year-old woman was shot to death during a road rage incident.
Kansas City Police Chief Darryl Forté said he agreed with the mayor that the violence in Kansas City is out of control and “it’s time to do something about it.”
Last January, Kansas City recorded 8 homicides, but nearly doubled that number this year. Of the 15 homicides this year in January, 14 of those were a result of gun violence. The Kansas City Star reported this was the bloodiest January since 1994.
As high homicide rates continue to plague Kansas City, officials are hoping to curb the violence through KC NoVA, Kansas City Mayor Sly James said.
NoVA uses a pyramid approach to combat crime and categorizes individuals into Tier I and Tier II levels. Tier I criminals are considered the most dangerous and will be prosecuted, Peters-Baker said during a previous interview. Social services will be geared toward Tier II individuals, which are those who associate with gangs or violent criminals and are headed on a destructive path. One of the goals is to reach those at-risk individuals through social services before they commit a serious crime, she said. NoVA has hired a master social worker, who will assist the individuals with job skills training, transportation assistance, GED training, substance abuse programs, among others. The hope is that those individuals will then positively influence others in their social network.
NoVA officials will meet with individuals associated with the sweep in the near future and are continuing to discuss the best way to encourage the at-risk individuals to take advantage of the social services. Faith-based and community organizations will also assist in positively influencing individuals.
To identify Tier I and Tier II individuals, NoVA has partnered with the University of Missouri-Kansas City criminology department to map out social circles, known as criminal social networks. Those networks are comprised of friends, family, anyone the criminals associate with. UMKC will also identify the unique intricacies of each social network and whether or not social networks overlap with others.
“Part of this project rests on the most cutting edge process in my field academically today,” said Alex Holsinger, associate professor at the UMKC Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology. “It represents a merging of social network analysis and criminological theory.”
Forté stressed that NoVA is not like a “get rich quick scheme.” Results won’t happen overnight, he said. However, he said, “If we do nothing, we get nothing.”
Last year, Kansas City tallied 108 homicides; NoVA wants to drop that number to 80 within two years.
One aspect that sets NoVA apart from past programs is the “true collaboration” among a variety of entities, Peters-Baker said.
Those entities include KCPD, the Jackson County Prosecutor’s Office, the City of Kansas City Mayor’s Office, the Missouri Board of Probation and Parole, UMKC, the U.S. Attorney, Greater Kansas City LISC and others.
U.S. Attorney Tammy Dickinson said she’s pledging her support and is dedicated to helping Kansas City curb its violence block by city block, one social group at a time, one neighborhood at a time.
The collaborated efforts will make a “meaningful difference” in Kansas City, Dickinson said.
James added that they want to help more individuals break away from the cycle of violence rather than just sending them to jail. However, it’s a tough love approach and individuals can decide to change or go to jail, he said.
“We’re going to wage a long war against slow motion mass murder that occurs in this city each year,” James said.