KC NoVA’s impact on the Historic Northeast

Paul Thompson
Northeast News

Like many Kansas City residents, KCPD Captain Thad Seever didn’t have a clear understanding of what the Kansas City No Violence Alliance (KC NoVA) was until he joined the organization as a commander a few months back. Seever had envisioned a squad of sorts, consisting mostly of police officers. What he found was a wide-ranging collaboration, with KCPD serving as the enforcement arm.

“There’s so many different parts of NoVA,” Seever said over coffee earlier this month. “Social services, there’s a messaging committee, there’s an intelligence committee, an enforcement committee, which I chair; there’s just so many parts of it that I had no idea about before.”

If Seever was unsure how NoVA operated, it stands to reason that the general public has also been left wanting. Did you know, for instance, that KC NoVA employs three full-time social workers as client advocates? Seever estimates that at any one time, those client advocates are connecting 80-90 individuals to vital social services.

To its credit, Seever indicated that the KC NoVA governing board understands that the collaboration could do more to positively engage the community. Those efforts have clearly been prioritized under Chief of Police Rick Smith; NoVA personnel organized a community canvass in the Historic Northeast in March, and a NoVA Impact Squad has been somewhat publicly employed in the Northeast area since early 2018.

The KC NoVA governing board also recently hired a full-time staffer dedicated to community engagement.

“One of the weakest links of NoVA has been our ability to be out in the community and engage the community,” Seever said. “So the KC NoVA governing board recently hired a full-time community engagement supervisor whose primary job is to oversee the three client advocates, but to also engage community groups, engage faith leaders and individuals who can really get the community involved in violence reduction.”

According to Seever, Chief Smith’s vision is for NoVA Impact Squads to eventually be deployed in each patrol division.
“The NoVA initiative will still continue, but the goal that the Chief has in mind, or the vision, is for each Patrol division to have its own NoVA initiative run by their Impact Squads,” Seever said. “Each division station will have its own NoVA initiatives, which is enforced by their impact squads.”

Whether you realize it or not, the Kansas City No Violence Alliance (KC NoVA) is out there. The goal, at least for the moment, is making the Historic Northeast a safer place to live. Resources deployed in the area include two enforcements squads, enforcement elements from Narcotics and Vice, Probation and Parole, undercover assets and codes enforcement personnel.

Initially, those resources were focused primarily on less than a dozen of the area’s most notorious criminals.

“When we first started this initiative in the Northeast, we identified a group of eight individuals that we believed were causing the most disruption,” Seever said.

Those eight individuals, KC NoVA believed, were the main culprits behind drive-by shootings, aggravated assaults, and armed robberies. This new geographical enforcement strategy – focusing on one neighborhood at a time – was first deployed with a pilot program in the Hickman Mills area of South Kansas City. The problems in that area stemmed primarily from juveniles, and Seever said that NoVA noticed a general reduction in violent crime after the main culprits were brought to justice.

With NoVA’s resources now in the Historic Northeast, the organization is showing that it recognizes a problem with violent crime in the area. Those resources have already proven to be a valuable commodity.

When a utility worker was tragically murdered near the intersection of 9th and Brooklyn, NoVA personnel were among the law enforcement responders.

“For that homicide, it was almost an all-hands on deck approach. Resources from throughout the department were brought in, especially to help with the area canvass,” Seever said. “We knocked on hundreds of doors over about a three or four day period, trying to identify anyone that had home surveillance or any businesses that had surveillance, trying to gather all that information together, trying to identify any witnesses that may have gotten a good look at the guy.”

Another problem being addressed by NoVA is the stock of vacant homes in the Northeast, and the criminal element that attracts to the empty properties like a high-powered magnet. To help curb those issues, NoVA supervisor Captain Aaron Benson has been assigned full-time to finding those dangerous homes and referring codes violations to the City.

”He makes notes of every house that looks dilapidated, unoccupied, unsafe, with weeds overgrown, and he forwards all of those addresses to the City for codes enforcement,” Seever said. “And then he’ll follow up with them to find out what actions they’ve taken on those properties.”

The subject of vacant properties, and the problems that arise from them, has been raised by law enforcement personnel before, including during a sweep of area homeless camps last month. To get a sense for the scope of Benson’s efforts, the Northeast News rode along with him for a short spell earlier this month.

Benson started his career working patrol in the Historic Northeast. To this day, it holds a special place in his heart, making his current assignment a personal affair.

“This is where I started. Just the Northeast neighborhoods, and the area, I like it,” Benson said during the ride-along. “It’s a great melting pot of people.”

At one point, Benson slowed down his vehicle to point out two problem residences which have since been abated. They are clean, freshly mowed, with boards neatly filling the windows. But according to Benson, those are relatively new developments.

“Both of those were heavy into narcotics. They were actually renting there. Sometimes it’s hard for the landlords to get individuals out of those residences,” Benson said. “It’s 100 times better. You can tell now: it’s boarded up, and nobody can get in. I’m sure all these neighbors are ecstatic.”

Benson added that his interactions with the Northeast community have largely been positive.

“I can’t tell you how many times we’ve been told by the community – when we’re just driving up and down the streets – how much they appreciate us being down here, and that they’re noticing changes,” Benson said. “We can help each other. The community, they’re all over it, and they know what’s going on.”

Two years into his stint at NoVA, Benson has grown adept at spotting problem properties. It’s not just overgrown weeds and piles of trash; one of the biggest indicators of an organized criminal element is graffiti. The public display of gang signs is a sign of comfort, and Benson has been working diligently with City codes officers to make the life of a criminal uncomfortable in Northeast Kansas City.

“We also want to get the drug houses out of here. That’s our main focus. We want to handle those houses,” Benson said. “The City has been incredible, and they’ve been very quick in response. I’m very, very happy to see a lot of things moving quickly.”

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