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Increase of crime in Topeka no reason to panic E-mail
Wednesday, 11 October 2017 08:34

A SECOND OPINION, The Topeka Capital-Journal

The United States is a less violent place than it was a quarter of a century ago. According to FBI statistics, the rate of violent crime in our country fell by around 50 percent between 1993 and 2015. The Bureau of Justice Statistics (which includes both reported and unreported crimes) found an even more dramatic decline over the same period: 77 percent. Although violent crime rates have collapsed since 1993, 21 Gallup polls have found that substantial majorities of Americans consistently report that violence is actually increasing.

There are many reasons for this stubborn misperception — from a 24-hour news cycle that emphasizes violence and chaos over practically everything else to improvements in communications technology that allow us to see horrific violence in graphic detail. Atrocities like the mass shootings in Las Vegas and Orlando also skew our perception and terrify us, but these are extremely low-frequency events that account for a tiny fraction of the overall violent crime rate in the U.S. Of course, it doesn't help to have a president who falsely asserts that the murder rate is higher than it has been in 47 years.

All of that said, violent crime has actually increased over the past few years — particularly the murder rate. Between 2014 and 2015, the FBI reported a 3 percent rise in overall violent crime and a 10 percent spike in the murder rate. These numbers continued to climb from 2015 to 2016. And Kansas hasn't been exempt from this disturbing aberration. According to the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, our state's murder rate surged by 46.5 percent between 2014 and 2016, and there were more murders last year than at any point since 2000. Meanwhile, the overall violent crime rate increased by 15.6 percent.

As if these alarming statistics weren't bad enough, the KBI has far fewer resources than it needs to investigate the increasing number of violent crimes in the state. In 2009, the bureau had 98 agent positions, but that number has fallen to 74 for this fiscal year. This means the agents have been forced to work much longer hours — since 2012, the amount of money allocated to overtime pay has increased by 733 percent. It also means the KBI has been unable to investigate as many crimes. As KBI executive officer Katie Whisman explains, "We currently have twice as many active, open homicides as we do people to investigate them."

Whisman also says the KBI has six investigators in its child victims unit, which means it can now only accept Jessica's Law cases — as she puts it, "Quite simply, we're running out of people." Moreover, there were 157 aggravated sex offenses in jurisdictions with no official investigators last year. While this doesn't mean they're being ignored, the KBI would be better able to assist small agencies if it had more resources. According to Kansas law enforcement lobbyist Ed Klumpp, these agencies often don't have the tools or expertise to investigate major crimes such as human trafficking, child pornography and cybercrimes.

Although we shouldn't indulge statistically illiterate hysteria about what Trump describes as "American carnage," nor should we ignore the serious increase in violent crime that Kansas has witnessed since 2014. Yes, there has been remarkable decline in violence over the past few decades, but we must do everything possible to maintain this trend (especially as crime rates tick back up). Making sure law enforcement agencies like the KBI have the resources they need is a good place to start.




About The High Plains Daily Leader

The High Plains Daily Leader and Southwest Daily Times are published Sunday through Friday and reaches homes throughout the Liberal, Kansas retail trade zone. The Leader & Times is the official newspaper of Seward County, USD No. 480, USD No. 483 and the cities of Liberal and Kismet.  The Leader & Times is a member of the Liberal Chamber of Commerce, the Kansas Press Association and the Associated Press.

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