Last week, mayoral candidate Henry Klein posted a video talking about the significant crime problems in Kansas City -- and does a great job of breaking down the specifics of the crime issues in KC (Kansas Citians are less safe than 98% of the US population).
Then, this week, candidate Deb Hermann also reportedly noted that solving Kansas City's crime issues should be a major topic of conversation for the upcoming mayoral election.
There should be little doubt that Kansas City must address its crime issues. With the 2010 murder count now rising over 100 homicides, and property crimes and other lesser violent crimes also increasing, it is pretty evident that this needs to be a focus.
However, the talk of reducing crime in our city has to move beyond talking about the police force. I think it is really important for all of the future city leaders to realize that crime, in and of itself, is not the problem. It is a symptom of the many other problems that face the city. If we are to really address the issue of "crime" in Kansas city, we must address the other issues, like education, transportion, employment opportunities and housing issues that plague the city.
Improvements to our school system are essential to helping solve the crime issues. There are countless studies that show the connection between low educational attainment and crime. And with KCMO schools having lacked accredidation for over a decade now (and having been substandard for longer than that), it is no wonder that many parts of the city suffer from poorly educated residents. Poor educational attainment also can be directly correlated to high unemployment (see chart left from the Washington Post).
Which then leads to the problem of jobs.
Over the past 3 decades, the Jackson County portion of KCMO has lagged the rest of the metro in job growth. In fact, over the past 15 years, the KC metropolitan area has grown total jobs by about 7%, while the US has grown by job about 15%. Unfortunately, the job growth has been almost entirely on the Kansas side of the state line -- with the KS counties growing by about 17%, and KCMO losing about 15% of its jobs.
Even worse than the reality that the jobs have moved to other parts of the metro is the reality that many of the people in Kansas City's urban core do not have viable transportation to get to these jobs. If they cannot (or do not) afford to have a car, the lack of consistent and viable public transit options (particularly across the state line) have kept them from being able to acces the jobs that exist in other parts of the metro. So while many political officials have been made fun of for the need for a true regional transit system, the reality is that the urban poor in KCMO are the ones that suffer the most from it not being available.
And finally, there is the issue of housing. Because of the lack of jobs, the poor education system, and the inability to get to jobs, over 17% of the KCMO population is currently living below the poverty line -- with a large portion of the low-income living in the city's urban core in Jackson County. The high concentrations of poverty are also related to the high incidences of shootings in the metro. If the city must also look at a very detailed housing policy that will help break up heavy concentrations of low-income housing (especially in instances where it's government funded low-income housing).
The mayoral race to be the mayor who is tough on crime (not that anyone is running on the pro-crime platform) must involve not only talking about the police department, but must involve talking about the underlying causes of crime - -the symptoms, vs just fighting crime itself. Officials must focus efforts on improving education (not necessarily a city function, but there are things the council can do), real job growth,better public transit across state lines, and better housing policies.
Tackling the symptoms of the problems will not only cure many of our ills, but will also make sure "fighting crime" is not a mayoral talking point for the next 20 years as well.