Criminal justice professor uses sticky notes to humanize Kansas City homicides

Amina Dalton

Homicide rates in Kansas City have been on a steady incline for years. 

With 138 homicides in 2018 and 151 in 2019, criminal justice professor Ken Novak took note of the homicide trends by recording each one on a sticky note and posting them on his office door. The chilling display of name after name stirs emotions among students and staff that pass Novak’s office.

“It’s fascinating that you never hear about a lot of these incidents,” Novak says. “The sticky notes are a way of humanizing those victims.”

According to the Daily Homicide Analysis released by the Kansas City Police Department, 140 of the 151 homicides committed involved the use of a firearm. Ken Novak noted this on the sticky notes, each one color-coordinated by the type of crime committed. Yellow represented firearm homicides, green were for unknown causes, purple showed homicides with police involvement, and the rest were represented with blue.

“The initial motivation behind the sticky notes was to get people to visualize homicides differently and to start and initiate conversations around gun violence in Kansas City,” Novak said.

Missouri is an open carry state, meaning anyone age 19 or older can legally possess a firearm with or without a concealed carry permit. Many have drawn a connection between this legislation and the increase in homicide rates.

“It’s not a coincidence that homicide rates have increased in a state that has some of the weakest gun laws,” Novak reasons. “The ability of a city to pass more restrictive gun laws over the state is hard.”

Missouri is made up of 114 different counties. When choosing laws, officials must look at circumstances and political opinion statewide, often at the expense of counties such as Jackson, in which Kansas City is for the most part located. Although crime rates may be uncomfortably high in certain areas, the law remains the same.

There have been 23 homicides in Kansas City in 2020 already, leaving citizens questioning what steps can be taken to change this problem.

“There isn’t one solution, but changing gun laws and analyzing the relationship with law enforcement could have some changes,” Novak says.

Novak has been working closely with KC Nova (the Kansas City No Violence Alliance), a collective effort between law enforcement, community leaders and Kansas Citians concerned with crime to stand up to the violence happening around them.

“The focus is on the victims. Look at them and look at Kansas City’s relationship with homicides. The numbers aren’t normal,” Novak said.  

The disheartening rows of sticky notes that adorne his door would lead many to agree.

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