KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Data from the Kansas City Police Department shows more homicides with white victims were cleared between 2016 and 2020, despite a higher homicide rate for minorities.
Minorities were killed at four times the rate of white people between 2019 and 2020, despite only accounting for about 39.1% of the population, according to the World Population Review. Furthermore, the number of homicides with minority victims cleared in 2019 and 2020 was nearly 20.6% less than the number of homicides with white victims cleared.
The rate of minority homicides KCPD reported to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program and National Incident-Based Reporting System increased by about 11.8% in a two-year span.
In 2019, data shows KCPD reported minority homicides at a rate of 25.5 per 10,000 people, which jumped to 28.5 in 2020. At the same time, white homicides also rose by roughly 26.3%, from 5.7 to 7.2 homicides per 10,000 people.
Though the rate of white homicides increased between 2019 and 2020 by about 26%, it decreased between 2018 and 2019 by roughly 32%. The rate of minority homicides escalated from a rate of 21.4 in 2018, to 25.5 by 2019, about a 19.2% increase.
Examining KCPD’s clearance rate, challenges for investigators
Captain Leslie Foreman, a KCPD spokesperson, said there are multiple factors that impact a homicide investigation’s success, some of which are out of investigators’ control.
“When or how quickly a homicide is solved is in no way a product of the quality of the investigation,” she said in an email.
“Each and every homicide case is different and has many factors involved. The time it takes to solve a case can depend on many, many different things, most of which are out of the control of the investigative squad.”
Overall, KCPD saw an increase in its total homicide clearance rate in 2020.
It reported a 73% homicide clearance rate in 2020, roughly 32.7% higher than its 2019 homicide clearance rate of 55%.
“It takes a whole community to work with the police department to do a better job,” said 57-year-old Rosilyn Temple, whose son was killed in 2011. “The police didn’t do this. What about what the community needs to do? If we can protest police, we got to protest us.”
In November 2011, on the eve of Thanksgiving, 25-year-old Antonio Thompson was gunned down in his Kansas City apartment. Temple said this year marks a decade that her son’s case has gone unsolved.
“I never thought it would happen to me,” she said. “Seeing families on the news, I would always grab my heart or pass my TV, and I would feel so bad but I never stopped to take time out to support someone’s child.”
After the death of her son, Temple founded KC Mother’s in Charge, a nonprofit that works to reduce violence in Kansas City. Since starting the organization, Temple said she has been to hundreds of homicide crime scenes, some in which the families refuse to cooperate with law enforcement.
“I’ve been on homicide scenes where family have known who killed their loved one and would not talk to the police department, and want to take things into their own hands,” she said. “When you decide to take matters in your own hands, it’s going to affect another family.”
Temple said homicide investigations, especially in Black communities, are tricky because few people are willing to cooperate with police. She said she attributes the rise in minority homicides to those who choose to remain silent in her community, not the police department.
“I think that we all find something that we can come together in, on one accord, to work together, from law enforcement to community,” Temple said. “But first is, we as Black people, we have to address us because we find it’s so easy to take each other’s lives and go back and live like nothing never happened.”
Need for representation in policing
Michael Mansur, spokesman for the Jackson County Prosecutor’s Office, said the city’s clearance rates are too low, and there are not enough Black officers on the force.
“It’s not the police department’s fault alone. It’s the entire public safety system,” he said. “[But] the police (are) less than 10% Black.”
Mansur said homicide investigations are easily hindered when witnesses and victims don’t want to cooperate, but minority representation is essential for building that cooperation with law enforcement.
“There’s a significant percentage of victims who don’t want to cooperate, let alone witnesses,” he said.
“I think having minority representation in all those institutions is useful because when you talk to community members, they appreciate having prosecutors and everyone else in the system as fair representation for folks that look like them.”
Mansur said witness cooperation and representation isn’t the only gap to bridge. There are issues around police transparency, too.
In fact, law enforcement doesn’t report deadly police shootings to the FBI in its UCR, meaning any deadly shooting committed by a police officer, and the race of their victim, is exempt from the database.
Sergeant Jacob Becchina, spokesman at KCPD, said deadly police shootings aren’t included in the UCR unless the officer’s actions are deemed to be criminal and they’re charged.
“At that point, the fatal shooting would be considered in the homicide statistics,” he said in an email.
But for Tierra Cox, whose 30-year-old brother Terrance Bridges was shot and killed by a KCPD officer in 2019, this is unacceptable.
“I don’t understand how he was able to kill my brother and just go back to work because if my brother would’ve killed him, he’d be in jail,” Cox said. “So I don’t understand why he can do it.”
A KCPD officer approached Bridges after police received a phone call from neighbors alleging Bridges and his girlfriend were outside arguing. The tipster disclosed to law enforcement that one of them was armed.
But Bridges wasn’t armed.
“The officer, he didn’t even give him no command,” Cox said. “He didn’t even say, ‘freeze,’ ‘put your hands up.’ He didn’t even introduce himself as an officer. He didn’t do nothing. He just shot my brother, just for being a Black man, just shot him in the chest.”
The officer responsible for shooting Bridges remains on the force and was never charged, which means his death isn’t counted in the UCR’s statistics.
Foreman said every homicide victim deserves justice, and it’s something KCPD detectives work tirelessly to deliver.
“The time it takes is by no means up to the individual investigators, so to implicate that the race of the victim could somehow play a part is completely false.”
But Cox said she doesn’t buy it.
“It’s like they [police] have a secret code,” she said. “They don’t like us. It’s hard being Black in America.”
FBI data submitted by KCPD between 2016 and 2020 indicates minority homicide rates have steadily been increasing since 2018, but the rate at which they’re cleared is historically lower than white homicides.
What’s most concerning, for some, is these numbers don’t count deaths occurring at the hands of law enforcement.
Data shows the rate of minority homicides was 21.4 murders per 10,000 citizens in 2018, while the rate of white homicides only hit 7.5 murders per 10,000 citizens, about a 96.2% difference.
Though the rate of white homicides increased between 2019 and 2020 by about 26%, it decreased between 2018 and 2019 by roughly 32%. At the same time, minority homicides were on the rise.
“One thing I can tell you for sure, the police department, they still work my son’s case,” Temple said. “If anything comes up today, they’re still on it. It’s my community that failed me. My community has let me down.”
In 2019, 34.7% of minority homicides were still considered “open,” or currently under investigation by KCPD, while only 14.8% of white homicides remained open, nearly an 80.4% difference.
By 2020, the number of open minority homicide cases slightly dropped to 32.9%, while the number of open white homicide cases rose to 16.7%, nearly a 65% difference.
Cox said law enforcement needs to treat police shootings the exact same way they would any other homicide.
“Who’s to know how many other people he [the officer] killed?” Cox said. “My brother is the only one who he’s known to have killed, [and he’s] still in Kansas City working as a police officer while my brother’s in the ground.”
But Temple said the change has to initially start at the community level, not at the department.
“I understand the protests against law enforcement and everything else, but what about protests against us toward each other?” Temple said. “That’s where we lacking. Until we address it, nothing’s gonna change for us.”