As 2016 winds down, we begin our annual blog series where Health Forward associates review highlights from our work this past year. In our second post, Andres Dominguez writes about the recommendations to reduce violence in Kansas City that the task force identified this year. Join us as we look back on 2016.
Kansas City began 2016 with eight homicides in the first 10 days. Something that hadn’t happened in over a decade.
That was top of my mind when I began my work in January on the Citizens Task Force on Violence. In late 2015, I was asked by Mayor Sly James to join the anti-crime task force. Our mission was to gather facts and data to recommend policies and best practices about how we as a city can prevent, address and respond to violence in all its forms. Our initial meetings were very well attended with community residents expressing concerns, strategies to prevent violence and tragic stories of personal violence and its effect on their families.
The 19-member task force, appointed by Mayor Sly James and headed by City Councilwoman Jolie Justus, includes elected officials, professionals, social-service workers, clergy, educators and others. As a task force we decided very early that we would listen without making any early assumptions or supporting a specific agenda. We had a common vision, to end the violence in our community.
I’ve been working on strengthening communities for nearly three decades. We know that violence is a symptom of larger societal problems. We also know solutions must be community driven. Both pieces of knowledge must exist to properly address the root cause of violence in our communities.
It was with that lens that the task force spent the past year trying to get as much input as possible from the communities affected by violence.
We heard from communities about the lack of investment and opportunities such as jobs, housing and education. We heard a need to create a map of all existing organizations and a strategy to assist in the coordination and places for philanthropy to play a role in supporting the effort. We also heard, that to break the cycle of violence, we need to end the culture of violence, similar to the public education campaigns that address smoking and drunk driving.
We also looked for best practices from other cities and countries that are successfully addressing the issue of system violence.
With that, in October, we synthesized the information and are considering a total of eight recommendations to prevent violence and make Kansas City safer to present to the Mayor and the community. They include:
The task force has been deliberate in its approach. The recommendations are just a beginning. What happens next depends upon civic wherewithal to initiate change in partnership with allies, policing entities, funders and families that live with the on-going threat of violence. We need to keep the challenge in front of us, the death of one in this city is one too many.
Read more from authors in this series:
- Create full-time staff position to coordinate city’s violence prevention efforts.
- Establish community resource centers.
- Facilitate coalition building and leadership training for existing anti-violence programs and neighborhood leaders.
- Create electronic database of all community resources and agencies.
- Develop and implement Comprehensive Youth Master Plan.
- Create public service campaign to change the culture of violence.
- Create a homicide review board.
- Work with the health department to secure CDC study of violence in Kansas City.