Wichita getting national help amid high violent crime rate

July 7, 2019 GMT

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A violent crime rate about twice the national average has prompted Wichita law enforcement officials to join a national program that aims to drive down crime.

The Wichita Eagle reports the city is among 10 selected this year to participate in the U.S. Department of Justice National Safety Partnership.

Wichita cited the latest figures published by the FBI and the Kansas Bureau of Investigation in its application for the program, saying the city has experienced a “precipitous increase” in violent crime over the past three years.

Shootings have climbed steadily since 2014. Murders, rapes and aggravated assaults all ticked up between 2016 and 2018. And domestic violence “has risen sharply,” now accounting for nearly half of all aggravated assaults reported in the city.

“To make matters worse, Wichita PD is severely underfunded and understaffed,” with about 650 officers for a city that one study suggests should employ around 980, according to the application.

The partnership, a three-year program established in 2017, will provide training and technical assistance to the department at no cost. Wichita is among 40 participating cities total and 10 selected to join this year.

The rising crime rates have been fueled by drugs, gangs and domestic arguments. But the swell is a far cry from crime levels seen in the 1990s before a law enforcement crackdown on drugs, gangs and racketeering.

“Overall across the country crime is still continually going down. We’re seeing just a few spikes,” Wichita State University professor of criminal justice Michael Birzer said.

The Wichita Police Department has introduced a series of strategies it says are already working to counter the boost in violence, including hiring crime analysts, centralizing Violent Crimes Task Force members and asking gun dealers and owners to save spent ammunition so it is easier to identify firearms, especially stolen ones, used in crimes.

Nationwide there were an average of 382.9 violent crimes per 100,000 residents in 2017, according to FBI statistics. Wichita logged nearly three times that — 1,019 violent crimes for every 100,000 people — that same year.

Three of the four types of violent crimes tracked by the KBI and FBI ticked up from 2016 to 2018. Homicides, including police-involved killings, surged 37%; rape rose 25%; and aggravated assaults increased by 13%, according to the Wichita Police Department.

Shootings almost doubled between 2014 and 2018, to an average of nearly three a week. Meanwhile, aggravated assaults and batteries swelled to 3,015 incidents in 2017 — 76% of all violent crimes reported that year. That’s about eight a day on average.

“The reality is that there is a high level of gun violence,” Wichita police spokesman Officer Paul Cruz said. “And it’s an issue. But it’s a community-wide issue.”