Photo by Michael Bushnell

Michael Bushnell

Representatives from over a dozen city departments were joined by Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas and City Public Safety Director Melesa Johnson Thursday afternoon to kick off a 90 day targeted initiative designed to reduce crime along Independence Avenue between Benton Boulevard and Hardesty Avenue.

The task force, created in August, is made up of city departments such as Health, Public Works, and Regulated Industries that will work to identify active crime hot spots as well as environmental factors that contribute to crime and work to address those issues in the coming months.

Following a short press conference adjacent to Fire Station 23 at Independence Avenue and Van Brunt Blvd., two groups, one going east to focus on business and regulated industries issues and one going west to offer service provider resources to businesses and residents along the Independence Avenue corridor, began site visits to businesses along the Avenue. 

Mayor Quinton Lucas noted that the Northeast area of the city is often a microcosm for the rest of the city at large.

“It’s been a tragic year in Kansas City, it’s been a tragic year on the Avenue,” said Mayor Quinton Lucas, when asked about long term solutions for the Avenue that go beyond the 90-day target period of this action. “In some ways, as goes the Northeast, as goes the Avenue, so goes the rest of the city in terms of some of the things we need to address,” Lucas said. “What you’re seeing right here though are a group of people that are committed to making change. We’re going to work collaboratively across all agencies to try and make a difference.”

Photo by Michael Bushnell

John Harbrucker, a supervisor with the city’s Regulated Industries department, was asked about a possible moratorium on the issuance of liquor licenses to new applicants in already troubled areas such as the Avenue, specifically two recent liquor permit issuances, one in the Sheffield Neighborhood, the other in Scarritt Renaissance that had formidable neighborhood opposition yet were still issued by Regulated Industries.

“What I see as part of the process is the surrounding property owners who get a say in the liquor license,” Harbrucker said, as he and his staff carried out an inspection of the Express Stop at 4815 Independence Avenue, the site of two homicides in the last eight months. “To me, those are the people who live right next door, who see it day in and day out. That’s the biggest source of who thinks it’s going to be good or not.”

While pleased with the resources being dedicated to Independence Avenue, Independence Avenue Community Improvement District CEO Bobbi Baker Hughes stressed the need for long term, holistic solutions. 

“When permit issues and concerns are brought to the attention of our businesses they are really pretty compliant,” said Baker Hughes. “The people part of this initiative however must include real solutions regarding addiction, homelessness, prostitution, human trafficking and mental health issues. Without holistic remedies, these issues, decades in the making by the way, will not be resolved and will continue to negatively impact quality of life along Independence Avenue.”

Photo by Michael Bushnell

According to  a press release from Jazzlyn Johnson, Press Secretary for the Mayor’s office, the task force and Partners for Peace will be visiting businesses all along Independence Avenue to engage with owners and residents and identify environmental factors that may be leading to high crime in the area. Those factors may include illegal dumping, graffiti, overgrown weeds, and blight. The task force will engage with businesses to work to fix those issues and Partners for Peace will be there to do street outreach, engaging with anyone who may be at-risk for violent crime and may need resources

Northeast neighborhood associations that border the Avenue in the target area- Lykins, Indian Mound, Sheffield and Scarritt Renaissance -did not receive notice for Thursday’s kick-off event and were also unaware of the new initiative.

Mark Morales, President of the Sheffield neighborhood, received no official notification of Thursday’s meeting or the impending initiative. “We’re definitely disappointed,” Morales lamented. “This needs to be a community driven initiative and we had no notice this was even coming. How can we be a part of the solution if we don’t even get a seat at the table?”

Photo by Michael Bushnell

Kelly Allen, Executive Director of the Lykins Neighborhood Trust, echoed Morales’ sentiments. “I think it would have been way more effective from the people who live here who can point out the hot spots and pinpoint the areas where people can use social services,’ Allen said. “I feel like ‘help us help you’ but that didn’t happen. We’re here every day, we can be an excellent resource and we weren’t even consulted,” Allen said.

Indian Mound Neighborhood President Jimmy Fitzner summed up the Northeast neighborhood position by stating, “We’re over here doing work and the city is over here doing work and it’d be nice to be doing this work together instead of in a vacuum. We know what keeps us safe. Consulting us over here helps you, the city in the long run.”  

In terms of deliverables and outcomes after the 90 day initiative wraps up, no word was given on how those would be communicated back to stakeholders along the Avenue. The Northeast News has reached out to those organizers but as of press time we have not heard back. We’ll stay abreast of developments as they occur.