After decades of malaise stemming from postwar suburban flight, Kansas City had all the trappings of a great American comeback story. Famous for its barbeque and fountain-lined boulevards, the city has a rich cultural and economic history. It’s home to iconic American companies like Hallmark, Russell Stover Chocolates, and H&R Block, and Google has unveiled plans to build a $1 billion data center. In 2021, the city reached its highest population on record, and per capita personal income continues to soar.

But despite these gains, the city has struggled with violent crime. Earlier this year, an argument between several young men at the Kansas City Chiefs Super Bowl victory celebration turned into a deadly shooting that left a local radio host dead and nearly two dozen people injured. Since 2021, the city has seen 18,335 aggravated assaults, 514 homicides, and more than 3,700 robberies. Kansas City experienced its deadliest year on record in 2023, with 182 homicides, and murders have risen by 7 percent on average every year since 2014.

Property crime also remains rampant. Last year, Kansas City recorded 9,066 motor vehicle thefts—a 48 percent increase from 2022. “I’ve joked before that it’s a hazing ritual for people who move here,” said one Kansas City marketing executive. “It even happened to one of my wedding guests on my wedding night.” Missouri has nabbed a spot on the National Insurance Crime Bureau’s Top Ten hotspot list for vehicle theft every year since 2017.

Kansas City needs determined and competent law enforcement strategies to combat crime, but the city’s problems can’t be entirely laid at the feet of the mayor and local government. Thanks to a quirk of history, Kansas City is the only remaining major American city without home rule of its police force. The KCPD has been under state control since a 1939 crackdown on public corruption led to the imprisonment of organized crime boss Tom Pendergast, who had used the KCPD as a personal police force. The department is controlled by a five-person Board of Police Commissioners; four board members are appointed by the governor (with the state legislature’s advice and consent), and the fifth by the Kansas City mayor. None of the recently appointed members of the Board of Police Commissioners had prior law enforcement experience. Missouri Governor Michael Parson appointed his campaign donor, the CEO of a large local construction company, to the board.

The state-run board’s current strategies to curb violent crime are clearly not working, and the existing governance structure essentially shields the mayor and city council from political liability for their own public-safety missteps. Recently, local leaders were able to use the governor as a foil after he commuted the sentence of a former Chiefs’ assistant coach (the son of head coach Andy Reid) who had prior DUIs and weapons and drug charges and, in a drunk-driving crash, had injured five people and left a five-year-old girl with a traumatic brain injury. While it’s true that the restoration of home rule could lead to politicization of the police department, local elected officials have stronger political incentives than state-level officials to run a transparent and effective police force.

The state government’s record on violent crime over the past 20 years is nothing to brag about, moreover. Missouri’s violent crime rate has surpassed the national average every year since 2001, according to FBI crime data. Aggravated assaults and motor vehicle thefts were, on average, 133 percent and 126 percent of the national average, respectively. State homicides rates have surpassed the national average every year since 1991 (except 2003), spiked dramatically in 2008, and have continued trending upward ever since. In a recent poll of more than 500 Missouri CEOs, 90 percent said that they consider crime and public safety a growing or top concern, and 69 percent said rising crime is affecting the state’s economic competitiveness. CNBC ranked Missouri as the sixth worst state in its 2023 business climate study.

After another Chiefs Super Bowl win, national headlines should have been about the resurgence of Kansas City as a modern Midwest metropolis. Instead, a senseless shooting left a young mother dead, injured children, and reinforced the city’s reputation for unbridled violent crime. Unlike other red states with blue-city basket cases, Missouri, with its Republican-dominated state government, has a hand in creating this mess. The Chiefs parade shooting is an admonition to Missouri’s leaders: act now to fix the state’s public-safety problems. They can start by restoring home rule to the KCPD.

Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images


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