By Paul Thompson
February 1, 2017
KANSAS CITY, Missouri – When Kansas City, Missouri police officer Vito Mazzara first walked Independence Avenue, it was as a rookie cop doing foot patrols along the Avenue back in 2011. A lot has changed in the interim.
Over the past couple of years, Mazzara’s presence in the Northeast has increased significantly. He now works for the Independence Avenue Community Improvement District (CID), completing roughly eight shifts a month in an off-duty capacity. According to Bobbi Baker-Hughes of the Independence Avenue CID, Mazzara’s work with the CID has been instrumental in the recent successes combating nuisance incidents along the corridor. Baker-Hughes recently told the Northeast News that Mazzara and the Titan Avenue Angels who patrol the corridor during peak hours have handled more than 1,000 nuisance-related incidents since the CID began utilizing the security force.
One of the big keys for the CID has been the introduction of a new process to the Titan Avenue Angels tool kit: what’s called a Summons for Citation. The process allows the CID’s safety and security personnel to make a running list of criminal nuisance violations for Mazzara to follow up on when he arrives for one of his monthly scheduled shifts. Mazzara can then go through the list and, if he deems it necessary, pursue criminal charges to repeat offenders. Mazzara noted that in his experience, the most common repeat offenses include trespassing, loitering, panhandling, and drinking in public.
Typically, the Titan Avenue Angels will put together a comprehensive list of violations for Mazzara, who makes a judgment call on whether or not to pursue charges.
“If they see a party trespassing or they get a call, they will detain them, contact me, and I would issue a summons or arrest them, depending on the situation,” he said.
Baker-Hughes said that the process has been a major deterrent to criminal activity.
“We go ahead and put together all of that information that KCPD needs in order for the summons to be processed by our off-duty police officer,” said Baker-Hughes. “We’ll have the forms completed for him with all of the necessary information. It has proven to be very successful.”
Mazzara agrees, adding that the Titan Avenue Angels are now being offered an additional layer of deference from the community. According the CID’s off-duty officer, the threat of legitimate repercussions for multiple nuisance violations is a big reason why: some individuals have already seen it affect them to the tune of 100 days in jail.
“The respect that they’ve gained has been great. We saw a tremendous drop in nuisance violations once that came out,” said Mazzara. “When I show up and start handing out warrants, they realize that they’re being held accountable for their actions.”
Creating a running list of violations isn’t the only way Baker-Hughes and the CID have targeted safety and security of late. She noted that the CID has recently decided to invest $60,000 to install new cameras – as well as two license plate readers – at strategic locations along the Avenue.
“We’ll literally be able to see the Avenue from The Paseo to Ewing with the cameras that we’re putting into place this year, plus the two that we put into place last year,” said Baker-Hughes.
Additionally, the CID has recently increased the time that Titan Avenue Angels are on duty. Hughes noted that Titan Avenue Angels work shifts from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., and 3:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
“Throughout the day we have three officers,” she said.
The increased presence of Titan Avenue Angels combined with the increase in security equipment throughout the Independence Avenue corridor has only served to strengthen relations with area business owners. Baker-Hughes told the Northeast News that the CID’s cameras are already tied in to the KCPD’s video surveillance system, and added that dozens of businesses along the Avenue are at least considering doing the same.
“We went to every business on the Avenue and asked if they would be willing to have KCPD come out and talk to them about utilizing their cameras as well,” said Baker-Hughes. “We’ve got about 30 commitments that have agreed to at least have a conversation with police. They’re willing to set up an appointment with PD.”
Mazzara says that he’s been encouraged by the response from business owners, adding that if more businesses embrace strong partnerships with the CID, the Avenue will only keep growing more safe.
“We’ll have the license plate readers and the camera, which is really good for the businesses. It’s really meant to focus more on community safety than it is for enforcement,” said Mazzara. “We continue to put the time in on the Avenue, and we have great support from businesses.”
When Mazzara was interviewed by the Northeast News in 2011, as a rookie cop working foot patrol shifts on the Avenue, he said that he’d like to keep seeing positive changes on Independence Avenue even after the foot patrol project ended. Looking back now, Mazzara says that he’s seen a great shift on the Avenue since he first arrived almost five years ago. Part of that, he contends, is about business owners growing more comfortable with him and the Titan Avenue Angels.
“They know they can call my cell phone as a business and I will show up,” he said.