- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 13, 2015

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Jan. 12

One state, two cities, two different trends in homicide:

Joe McHale is a second-generation Kansas City cop who was a little skeptical of “focused deterrence” policing when he first heard about it.

As a younger man, he’d spent seven years as a TACT squad officer, even appearing on reality TV show about SWAT teams. The new concept sounded a little touchy-feely when the KCPD started talking about it in 2012.

The idea was to form a collaboration across city, state and federal law enforcement agencies to work with academic experts and social workers to identify and disrupt criminal networks. Those in the networks would be offered alternatives to crime. If they didn’t buy in, the hammer would be dropped on them.

Now, having seen the city’s homicide rate drop 23 percent last year, Joe McHale is a true believer and director of Kansas City’s No Violence Alliance (NoVA).

“We can’t just use handcuffs any more,” Maj. McHale said. “We can’t arrest our way out of the crime problem. We’ve got to have other tools. NoVA is about the police department, prosecutors, the feds, academic experts, probation and parole. It’s about what we do, how we address crime.”

It could be that what appears to work on one of side of Missouri would work on the other.

Missouri’s two largest cities have different policing challenges, but roughly the same number of officers - 1,400 in Kansas City, 1,350 in St. Louis city. With 50 more cops, Kansas City polices 314 square miles, an area five times the size of St. Louis with a population nearly 50 percent larger. St. Louis’ population is 44 percent white, 49 percent black. Kansas City’s is 59 percent white, 30 percent black. Crime often is a function of poverty, and 19 percent of Kansas City residents live below the federal poverty level, compared with 27 percent of St. Louis.

In short, St. Louis has far more concentrated poverty, and the crime that often accompanies it, than Kansas City.

Last year the city of St. Louis saw a 32.5 percent spike in its homicide rate, to 159, the highest number since 2008. The city is collaborating with criminologists at the University of Missouri on crime patterns and policing issues. It has employed community policing and so-called “hot-spot” policing, flooding high-crime areas with officers at random intervals. That program was cut back because of the demands caused by Ferguson-related civil unrest.

Indeed, police officials have said the so-called “Ferguson effect” may be associated with higher crime levels since the police killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown last August. The spike in homicides is not believed to be Ferguson-related, but rather to ongoing disputes among certain criminal groups in four north St. Louis neighborhoods.

St. Louis also has a criminal justice system that historically has not meshed as well as it could. In 2011, Mayor Francis Slay asked a team of IBM management consultants to study how the system could be improved. Data are now shared better among various parts of the system, but the first major initiative - a special docket for defendants accused of gun crimes - fell afoul of turf-conscious judges on the St. Louis Circuit Court bench.

“On homicide rates, Kansas City and St. Louis had sort of been on a par with each other for years,” Maj. McHale recalled. “We went back and forth on beating each other. We’d been doing same things for decades.”

Two years ago, Darryl Forté, the city’s new police chief (and the first African-American chief) reorganized the police department to cut down on jurisdictional disputes, creating a Violent Crime Enforcement Division. He bought into the NoVA project in a big way and assigned then-Capt. McHale as the department’s liaison. To cut down other turf disputes, the NoVA team moved into the office of Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker.

“We didn’t have good intelligence,” Maj. McHale said. “We weren’t talking to prosecutors or probation and parole. We were working with a 1980s system. We had to restructure.”

Working with experts from the University of Missouri-Kansas City, NoVA began employing social network analysis to identify groups associated with crime. They picked the brains of street cops and detectives and probation and parole officers. They traced crime the way epidemiologists trace outbreaks of disease.

“Now we know that there are 55 or 60 groups with a total of 900 people causing the majority of our problems,” Maj. McHale said. “Instead of policing 322 square miles, we’re policing the network.”

“We’re putting everything out there,” Maj. McHale said. “We tell them, ‘We know who you are and we know who your friends are. But we’ve also got a social services program. Whatever you need to get you off the path of violence, we’ll help you do it.’

“We tell them that the murder rate in their groups is 100 times the national average. You have a better chance of living through a deployment to Afghanistan or Iraq.

“But we also tell them that if they screw up, we’re coming after them and all their friends, no matter how big or how small the crime. They begin to influence each other. Crime is like a hot stove. You start to learn not to touch it.”

Maj. McHale said focused deterrence policing is no more expensive than what was done previously. There’s a $400,000 a year budget for social service workers and the services they deliver. At times it’s been as simple as buying an alarm clock, or an anger management class or helping someone get a GED.

At the police department, he said, “You’re taking the resources you’re using now and aligning mission better. The thing is, when you reduce violent crime, it has a ripple effect. It reduces other crime as well.”

The criminal justice system in St. Louis has smart, dedicated people who could do this. Whether it has the will to do it, and the willingness to give up its traditional turf battles, are different questions. One thing is certain: It couldn’t hurt.


Jefferson City News-Press, Jan. 11

Encouraging lawmakers:

Every Missouri legislative session comes with its own dynamic.

The session that began Jan. 7 includes some similarities to the 2014 installment. Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon remains chief executive and Senate President Pro Tem Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles, was retained by his peers.

But some significant changes have occurred. The House of Representatives has elevated John Diehl, R-Town and Country, to the speaker’s post. And veto-proof GOP majorities in both houses may curb Nixon’s veto stamp, used in abundance last year.

As the session begins, we encourage our elected officials to:

. Simplify: Diehl said he intends to rely on the committee process to scrutinize proposals and will ask panel chairmen to draft single-subject bills for consideration.

We concur. Legislation is known as a “Christmas tree” when it attracts numerous, often unrelated, provisions. A consequence is one contentious provision can kill the tree. A recent example was Nixon’s veto of an agriculture bill that contained a controversial provision regarding the Conservation agency’s oversight of captive deer.

Christmas is over, and a welcome transition will occur if Dempsey follows through on his intention to act swiftly on an agriculture bill without that provision.

. Communicate: Republican leaders have begun discussions about their priorities, which include freeing businesses from red tape, providing adequate education funding and changing ethics laws. Nixon will unveil his agenda in his State of the State address on Jan. 21. Communications, however, must not be limited to January, which leads to .

. Remain engaged: Republicans last year accused the governor of not remaining engaged in continuing discussions as legislation moved through the process. Polarization between the executive and legislative branches is easy, but not productive.

We don’t expect wholesale compromise, but we encourage the governor and lawmakers to work together. Dempsey has indicated he is willing to work with Nixon on some issues. We see that as a starting point on which to build.

A new session is a time when elected officials resume the difficult - and often thankless - task of governing.

We congratulate the newcomers and welcome the veterans, Democrats and Republicans, as they stand side by side on the threshold of possibilities.


The Kansas City Star, Jan. 11

Net Neutrality:

Republicans and Democrats might finally have found an issue on which they can agree.

With their new majority in Congress, GOP lawmakers may be poised to introduce legislation that prevents Internet service providers from playing favorites with data. So-called “net neutrality” has been a goal of Democrats for a while now. If recent reports out of Washington turn out to be accurate, lawmakers should capitalize on the opportunity.

Net neutrality is an arcane technical issue in many regards. In simplified form, net neutrality is the notion that Internet service providers - Comcast, Verizon, Time Warner, etc. - should not be allowed to create fast and slow lanes between customers - you - and online content. Customers pay for access, and it’s none of the providers’ business what legal websites they visit or which streaming movie service they use. All of the bytes should be equal.

Without net neutrality, providers could choke data from competitors’ sites, from sites that don’t pay them off or from sites they just don’t like. For example, Comcast could slow down Netflix, causing movies to buffer more often and making Comcast’s own movie offerings more attractive.

The Federal Communications Commission has been developing net neutrality regulations over the last year and will release them by spring. A legislative compromise is almost certain to be preferable to FCC-imposed rules that would wind up in a lengthy court battle.

But there are only whispers to go on right now, not actual legislation. Democrats - especially President Barack Obama, who wields a veto pen and said he wants strong net neutrality rules - should not sign off on a weak deal. At a minimum, the law should protect a free and open Internet and should apply to wireless carriers. People consume their digital content on smartphones and tablets as much as wired computers and televisions.

Fortunately, supporters of net neutrality have a bargaining chip. If regulations wind up coming from the FCC, it might classify Internet service providers as utilities. There’s a bunch of legal mumbo-jumbo involved, but the bottom line is that as utilities, providers would have to deal not just with net neutrality but also with other burdensome rules. They might be willing to accept strong net neutrality if it means avoiding the rest.

Powerful political players have lined up on both sides of the issue. Major telecommunications and media companies have staked out positions. So have civil liberties and other groups. And they aren’t staying quiet.

The FCC received millions of public comments on net neutrality in 2014. When the Sunlight Foundation studied those comments, it found that most were form letters generated by advocates with deep pockets, including “a shadowy organization with ties to the Koch brothers.” The Koch brothers oppose net neutrality.

The Sunlight Foundation found something else in the comments, too. When it separated out the non-form-letter submissions, leaving only the letters from people who took the time to write something themselves, it found that less than 1 percent opposed net neutrality.

Americans want their Internet to remain free. Congress should give that to them this year.


The Joplin Globe, Jan. 7

Out in the cold:

Missouri legislators are punishing the working poor.

There’s just no other way to say it. The Legislature has refused to close the coverage gap. It has turned its back on available federal funds that other states have accepted. By doing so, an estimated 300,000 uninsured Missourians cannot get discounts on insurance that are available through the Health Insurance Marketplace.

Those who have voted against it - and that includes all Southwest Missouri legislators - say that when federal funding dries up, it will leave the state holding the bag.

But again we ask, where does that leave the working poor today?

On the night of Jan. 6, candlelight vigils were held across the state, including one in Joplin, led by a grass-roots group calling out Missouri legislators to find a better solution this year. The past two years, the General Assembly has failed a large portion of Missouri’s population.

We would join our voice with those who are asking for this year to be different. As the Legislature begins a new session, this should be a priority.

Tom Flanigan, R-Carthage and incoming House Budget Committee chairman, has indicated that Medicaid reform, rather than expansion, should be the focus and is among those who has previously rejected the idea of taking the federal dollars because those dollars are only available through 2020. After that, the federal share of the costs of expanded coverage is set to drop down to 90 cents on each dollar, leaving the other 10 cents to the state. His concern about robbing Peter to pay Paul should be considered. But solutions also must be considered to help those who work two or three jobs but still don’t have the money for health insurance. While it’s prudent to think ahead, the time has also come to tackle the issue.

Doing nothing in 2015 is unacceptable.

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