Crime in Kansas City: Facts, myths and student perceptions

Nathan Zoschke

Crime can be a problem in most major cities, and Kansas City is no exception.

In 2010, homicides occurred, on average, once every three and a half days in Kansas City, Mo., and aggravated assaults averaged nearly 10 per day.

But such numbers are not unusual for a city the size of Kansas City, nor do they spell panic or alarm.

Crime rates in Kansas City have actually gone down over the past several decades, as they have throughout the United States.

The U.S. crime rate is at its lowest level since 1973, but polls show Americans believe crime has become worse.

In 2010, Gallup.com, a website of polls and public opinion, found 66 percent of Americans believed crime was increasing.

But exactly how violent is Kansas City?

“It’s just like any other big city,” Kansas City Police Sergeant Darrin Snapp said.

Here’s a more detailed look at crime in Kansas City:

Statistics can be misleading

Crime rates can be even more misleading, especially in a city like Kansas City, Mo.

The 2010 Census showed Kansas City proper having 460,000 residents, compared with 320,000 in St. Louis, Missouri’s second largest city.

But St. Louis only has 66 square miles.

Kansas City’s population is spread over more than 300 square miles.

Crime, however, is not spread out.

Half of Kansas City’s land area and nearly one-third of its population are located north of the Missouri River, yet only two of Kansas City’s 106 homicides in 2010 occurred north of the river.

In other words, the northland’s low crime rate skews the city’s overall rate, which is substantially higher in the urban core.

But there are also many disparities in crime south of the river.

Some neighborhoods, such as Brookside and the Country Club Plaza, had very low crime rates.

But other popular neighborhoods, like Westport and Southwest Boulevard, were marked as aggravated assault hot spots on a map in the police department’s Homicide Quarterly.

African-Americans are disproportionately victimized by crime, especially homicide and aggravated assault.

Eighty of Kansas City’s 106 homicide victims in 2010 were Black, yet African-Americans only represent 30 percent of Kansas City’s population.

In contrast, Non-Hispanic Whites, who comprise 60 percent of Kansas City’s population, and represented only 13 homicide victims.

Latinos represented 10 percent of Kansas City’s population in 2010 and accounted for 12 homicide victims. One homicide victim was of Asian descent.

A decrease in crime

To the surprise of some, crime in Kansas City is on the decline.

Monthly crime summaries from the Board of Police Commissioners show a steady drop in crime in recent years.

Violent crimes decreased 14 percent from 2008 to 2010, and property crimes were down seven percent.

Auto theft declined 37 percent, followed by robbery, down 24 percent, and homicide and non-negligent manslaughter, down 15 percent.

Rape, aggravated assault, non-aggravated assault and burglary were also down 10, nine, three and eight percent, respectively.

However, stealing and arson were up one and nine percent, respectively.

This contrasts with other metro cities, which have seen increases in crime.

Growing up in the city

For some urban core residents, crime is an issue that has affected their livelihoods. For others, it’s something they see overblown in the media, an outsider’s dystopian view of the inner city.

Freshman Kendall Herring said crime was more noticeable when he moved to Kansas City, Mo. after having lived in Grain Valley and Grandview.

“We have a problem with our gangs,” Herring said. “When I started going to city schools, there were a lot of people representing the streets where they’re from. There were a lot people taking pride in the street that they lived on, and that caused a lot of our crime.”

Herring, who lived near downtown, said he never personally experienced crime, although it was something he was aware of.

Gangs, he said, had a presence at Paseo High School, where he graduated.

“It was a city school,” Herring said. “Did I know kids in gangs? Personally, no, but I knew who they were. I tried to not follow that crowd.”

Herring said he expects violence in the city.

“I feel like we are in the city, so there’s going to be violence,” Herring said, “but I feel like sometimes kids who aren’t from the city play it up. Living here all my life, I’ve never been mugged or stabbed, and I’ve walked a lot of places. It happens to people who get involved in the crime.”

At UMKC, Herring said, it is frustrating when he sees students from outside the city exaggerate crime.

“It kind of annoys me when kids are like, ‘We’re next to Troost, we’re going to die,” Herring said. “It makes people sound ignorant and it’s disrespectful to people who are in the city. It makes people sound dumb when they say stuff like ‘We’re going to get shot walking through the parking lot.’ It’s annoying. It’s more gang violence than someone’s going to the back seat of their car to get something. It’s not like you’re going to get mugged. It’s more like you’ve being disrespectful to somebody and they have a mutual feeling.”

Crime and UMKC

UMKC’s urban location has made campus safety a more pressing issue than at other universities.

Caitlyn Dunsford, a freshman who grew up in northwest St. Louis County, said crime was an issue she thought about when visiting campus with her parents last year.

“We worried about it to an extent,” Dunsford said, “but when we went on our tour, they told us crime wasn’t a problem on campus.”

Dunsford said she feels safe on campus, but she notices a contrast when working at a daycare on the Paseo.

The difference in crime, she said, can be as little as one city block.

“If you literally go a block east, the difference, in my opinion, is pretty catastrophic,” Dunsford said of the daycare.

Lori Reierson, who graduated from Shawnee Mission North High School in Overland Park, Kan., said crime is an issue she is more cautious of on campus.

She said it was dark after her night classes in the winter, and that several girls in her class would carpool to the residence halls.

Lighting on the quad, she said, is poor, and Reierson, like many UMKC students, has taken precautions.

“I carry pepper spray, but obviously that only does so much,” Reierson said. “I remember it would be night when I got out in my classes in the winter. I actually got a ride once from the campus police when I was at the Miller Nichols library late at night. I don’t hear about many people taking advantage of that as a resource, which bothers me.”

Students can contact the campus police by dialing 816-235-1515.

Blue call boxes located throughout the campus allow students to contact an officer without dialing.

For more information on campus safety, check out www.umkc.edu/adminservices/police/.

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