South KC Perspective
By John Sharp
Concrete action to reduce the city’s horrendous homicide rate was taken Friday, June 21, with the announcement that the reward for anonymous tips to the TIPS Hotline about homicides in KCMO that lead to filing charges or arrests in such cases has been increased from $10,000 to $25,000.
The reward for such tips to the Greater Kansas City Crime Stoppers TIPS Hotline was only up to $1,000 until 2014 when it was increased to a maximum of $2,000 where it remained until late 2017.
Serious discussions about further increases started with a suggestion I made on September 23, 2017, to then new KCMO Police Chief Rick Smith as we took part in the Journey Through Grief Walk of the Kansas City Chapter of Parents of Murdered Children that unfortunately I belong to with way too many other area parents.
I told Chief Smith about the $25,000 reward paid by the Omaha Crime Stoppers program for information leading to solving any homicide case resulting in an arrest. He listened!
A little over a month later on November 2, 2017, the reward was increased to $5,000 for tips about KCMO homicides that lead to filing charges or arrests.
“Your idea was discussed with Rick Armstrong of the Crime Commission and with the city manager’s office. They both agreed to the increase,” Smith emailed me. At the time after approving funding for the initial increase, KCMO City Manager Troy Schulte said he was open to committing funds for further increases.
The next increase occurred on April 27, 2018, when the reward for such tips for KCMO homicides that lead to filing charges or arrests was increased to $10,000 thanks to funding from the city.
Later that day a homicide occurred at the 7-Eleven at 10615 Blue Ridge Blvd., and the police and media alerted the public about the higher reward. Numerous tips were received and one resulted in the identification of the suspect who was arrested the next day hiding in a closet wearing blood-stained clothing that matched the clothing worn by the assailant.
This was not an isolated case.
Two homicides were solved as a result of anonymous tips to the TIPS Hotline after the reward was increased to $5,000, and six more were cleared following the increase to $10,000, according to the Greater Kansas City Crime Stoppers TIPS Hotline, a program of the Kansas City Metropolitan Crime Commission.
In his Chief’s Blog, Smith said even though the reward increases only applied to KCMO homicides, publicity about the higher rewards contributed to a 26 percent increase in homicide tips throughout the metropolitan area and to more than doubling the number of homicides cleared as a result of anonymous tips.
The chief noted that Omaha, a city only slightly smaller than KCMO in population has been offering a reward of up to $25,000 for homicide tips for some time. Last year, he said, Omaha had only 20 homicides and Kansas City had 138.
“Reward money may not be the only factor, but it does appear to impact violent crime in Omaha,” he said.
Omaha not only has a much lower homicide rate than KCMO, but it also has reported solving over 70 percent of its homicides annually for years, a consistently higher clearance rate than Kansas City’s.
While many KCMO residents may think the city’s recent high homicide rates are simply an unavoidable consequence of living in major metropolitan areas, that simply is not true.
In 2017, the last year final national figures are available, KCMO ranked 5th in the nation among major cities in murder and non-negligent manslaughter rates per 100,000 residents based on figures submitted to the FBI, trailing only St. Louis, Baltimore, Detroit and New Orleans.
Among all U.S. cities with a population of 25,000 or more (also based on 2017 crime statistics submitted to the FBI) KCMO ranked 27th in the nation in our murder and non-negligent manslaughter rate per 1,000 residents, according to Neighborhood Scout in its annual report titled “Top 30 Murder Capitals of America”.
I am confident Chief Smith is correct when he calls this increase in cash rewards a game changer.
It can overcome people’s fear that perpetrators might be able to guess who provided information even though tips are anonymous and tipsters are not required to appear in court to receive the reward. With $25,000, persons can afford to relocate from a neighborhood they share with a perpetrator if necessary for their safety.
Plus, any funds raised to increase the reward for information regarding a specific homicide are added to the base reward for that case. For instance, several of us who are former or present elected officials and Concord Fortress of Hope Church raised $5,000 to add to the $10,000 base reward for information regarding the slaying of 9-year-old Dominic Young on January 20, 2018, at U.S. 71 Highway and Emanuel Cleaver II Blvd. when he was riding in his father’s vehicle. That reward is now $30,000.
“On every one of these cases someone knows something that can help the police investigations and help bring some comfort to the families of the victims,” the chief has said previously when discussing earlier reward increases.
Now that the city has stepped up for the third time to increase the reward for KCMO homicides, I hope other area municipalities can follow suit and that the business, civic, faith, labor and political leadership of the metropolitan area can assist the Crime Commission in leading an effort to raise the funds from both the public and private sectors to increase the rewards in homicide cases to $25,000 (or close to it) throughout the metropolitan area.
Smith said the latest reward increase will be accompanied by an extensive marketing campaign to assure people know about it, especially in areas where the most violent crime occurs.
Anyone with information regarding homicides, other crimes or fugitives should call the TIPS Hotline at 816-474-TIPS (8477), go to the Crime Stoppers website at www.KCcrimestoppers.com or get the free mobile app P3Tips.com.
In my next column I will discuss in detail the other major initiatives announced on June 21 to reduce violent crime in the city. These include narrowing the focus of the Kansas City No Violence Alliance from concentrating on groups involved in criminal activity to specifically targeting the most prolific violent offenders in the area.
“We’re going after the trigger pullers,” Smith told me in an interview.
This new focus is modeled after successful programs in other cities such as Tampa. Smith said in that city law enforcement officials found that about 6 percent of violent offenders were responsible for approximately 60 percent of violent crimes.