Violent crime uptick draws community attention

Michael Bushnell
Publisher


Roughly thirty Independence Avenue stakeholders and community members met Thursday, July 23, at the offices of the Independence Avenue Community Improvement District (CID) to address the uptick in crime along the Avenue Corridor, specifically at locations where violent crime is on the upswing.


One such location in the 3500 block of Independence Avenue continues to be a hot spot according to Independence Avenue CID CEO Bobbi Baker-Hughes and Kansas City Police Department (KCPD) Major Doug Niemeier, Commander of KCPD’s East Patrol Division. That location has been the scene of at least three homicides since March, most recently Saturday, July 18 when a man was shot on the front porch of an apartment building at 3508 Independence Ave.


“It’s very difficult for the police department to kind of patrol that area because of the alley that goes back there,” Niemeier said, referring to the east-west alley that runs between Bales and Askew Avenues behind the two buildings in question. “The people who are involved in crime at that location can see us coming from either direction and they’re long gone by the time we get there.”


A representative named Kevin from Lenexa, Kansas-based KAT Property Management LLC was present on the ZOOM call and stated his company manages the buildings in question. Kevin said his company had cleaned up the 3508 property and recently purchased 3516, another long-time problem.

“We’ve had pretty good luck keeping that property (3508) in good shape,” Kevin said. “Most of the problems we’re having are people that don’t live in that building or are just hanging out on the front porch of the building. We’ve gotten rid of most of those tenants and we’re in the process of getting rid of one or two more.”


Another major issue impacting crime along the Avenue corridor is the burgeoning transient population that directly impacts the quality of life for residents and businesses alike. Charlie Passantino, owner of Passantino Bros. Funeral Home at 2117 Independence Blvd. said it’s not that being homeless is the issue, but “they come on to my property and panhandle our families and guests for money. We’ve had to hire a private security guard and that’s all he deals with.”


Houston DeFoe with Metro Security Services also does non-profit work with Merging KC, an organization that networks with a number of agencies that regularly bring food to the homeless population in the city’s urban core. DeFoe also has led a number of volunteer based community clean ups under the Clean Up Kessler Park Facebook group. Earlier this spring, volunteers removed brush from the tree line along the east side of the Chestnut Greenway, removing thousands of pounds of trash and garbage left by transients, but also removing invasive weeds and brush normally used by the transient population to hide their camps.


“By opening up the line of sight into the tree lines, they’ve actually kind of stayed away from those areas,” DeFoe said. “They don’t want their tent seen, they don’t want their campsite seen so that’s really helped in those areas.”


Addressing the Chestnut Greenway specifically, Kansas City, Missouri Parks Superintendent Kevin Evans indicated that there had been two management changes in the district since the first of the year and the communications ball was dropped on keeping the newly-cleared tree line mowed.


“If it’s mowable, the contractor should be able to keep it mowed back,” Evans said. “If it’s not mowable he’s not going to go in there and do it because he might go in there and tear up his machine.”


Evans said the issue would be addressed by the end of Friday, July 24.


Major Niemeier offered a follow up on the July 2 officer-involved shooting on a RideKC bus at the corner of Independence and Hardesty. The suspect in that shooting had just robbed an individual at a bus stop near Independence and Winner Road and had boarded the bus.


According to Niemeier, the suspect that was wounded by police in a shootout on the bus had been responsible for eleven robberies in the area prior to his arrest that day. Since then, only one such robbery had taken place.


“That just goes to show how one person can wreak havoc on an area,” Niemeier said.


He also said that the targeted police resources that were responsible for the drastic reduction in crime in Northeast in late 2019 will be returning. Those officers were moved to the 30 Sector on the city’s East Side to address the spiraling violent crime rate in January. Niemeier said a collective decision was made to move the squad back to Northeast.


“It’s a challenge to find all these resources but we’ll be implementing that project back in Northeast,” Niemeier said.


In a follow up conversation, NEAT Director Scott Wagner said that Jackson County’s COMBAT organization may be tapped in order to bring some additional crime fighting resources to the community. Wagner also noted that NEAT and the Mattie Rhodes Center have applied for a Department of Justice grant in the amount of $500,000 to support community based crime reduction initiatives over the next three years.


“Something has to be done otherwise it’s just whack-a-mole every six months when the police resources shift again,” Wagner said. “Those are conversations we’re certainly willing to facilitate.


The next crime and safety committee meeting is scheduled for the fourth Thursday in August.

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