News Dog Speaks: What happened to NoVA?

People traditionally have short attention spans and short memories, something politicians like to capitalize on when speaking to key voter issues such as government spending or violent crime. 

These days, Kansas City’s political leaders, specifically those that would defund the police department, like to point the finger at the city’s thin blue line and place the blame for the spiraling violent crime and homicide rate at their feet. This News Dog has stated for the record, over and over again, that the blame should squarely rest at the feet of our soft-on-crime county prosecutor and her paradigm of continually rolling violent criminals back out on the street to prey on tax paying citizens. It’s proven fact, not opinion and the Dog has the evidence. 

Today, however, that’s not the conversation we’re going to have. Instead, we’re going to talk about a program that was rolled out back in 2013 and used effectively. Yep, Project NoVA. 

NoVA originally debuted as an innovative way to deter violent crime by targeting networks of criminal groups who were responsible for most of the city’s homicides and violent crimes. The concept involved contacting individuals involved in crime networks and inviting them to a “call-in” meeting where they were notified they were on PD’s radar. Instead of being arrested on the spot, attendees were given diversion options through social workers and job mentoring programs. Those that took the offered options were coached and assisted out of the circle of criminal activity and into job training programs and full employment. 

The effort, according to the numbers, paid off in spades. 2014’s homicide rate for Kansas City fell almost 20%, from 100 in 2013 to 82 in 2014. This News Dog wasn’t entirely sold on the program, even railing against the program in a few editorial pieces published in 2012 and 2013. I didn’t fully support the initiative until NoVA Program head Major Rick Smith invited us to a call-in at Independence Blvd. Christian Church where we saw and heard first hand how the program had impacted others who had cleaned up and gone straight. 

Homicide numbers, however, reversed in 2015 and gradually began to creep upward. That upward creep didn’t go unnoticed and members of the historic Northeast community announced a public forum in January of 2018 to address their public safety concerns to city and police officials. The Northeast News was there to cover the meeting at St. Stephen’s Academy that was attended by over 100 residents. 

Following that forum, the formation of the Northeast Violent Crime Reduction Initiative was announced, a task force composed of more than two dozen dedicated KC NoVA personnel. After a two-month push in Northeast, at the behest of East Patrol Major Jim Thomas, crime fell by over 55% between January and March of 2018. Based on those NoVA’s successes, Chief Rick Smith pledged continued support of the program. 

Then 2020 hit and the violent summer riots that divided the city, largely along racial lines, as well as those who either supported the police or despised their very purpose and existence. Officers left the department in droves, a trend that wasn’t slowed until late 2021. To compensate, long-standing programs such as the department’s mounted patrol unit were disbanded in order to put more officers in areas where critical shortages existed. Another victim, you guessed it, NoVA, leaving the initiative to a handful of county staffers with little or no manpower support from KCPD. 

The News Dog thinks it’s time for a shift in terms of KCPD’s NoVA participation level. While the Dog considers Chief Smith a good friend and an excellent chief, we’ve disagreed before on programs being cut, specifically the mounted patrol, a unit that has at its very core, the three primary components of true Community Policing.

As the pandemic continues to ease and officer retirements are trending downward, new Police Academy classes are underway that will bring much needed relief to overworked district officers who continue to run call to call. The Dog says quit with the political shell games on police funding and let’s throw support and resources at a program with a proven track record of reducing crime in the historic Northeast community. Our communities deserve better and we’re ready to partner to make it happen.

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