Wichita police chief says KC shootings point to solutions for rising violent crime

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WICHITA, Kan. (KAKE) -

"We can't keep arresting our way out of these issues," said Wichita Police Chief Gordon Ramsay.

Wichita's top cop is looking to our lawmakers to help crack down on violent crimes like that mass shooting in Kansas City Sunday.

Kansas City, Kansas, Police say the shooting at the Tequila KC Bar was not random. It was the end result of a bar fight that began earlier in the night when the bartender said a patron was shouting about gangs.  The bar kicked him out, but police say he came back later with another man and started shooting.

 Both men now face four murder charges, one each for the men who died.

"We're talking about our societal issues that fall on the back of our police," Ramsay said.  "And, at some point, we've got to say, 'Time out!  We need some help!'" 

That comment about gangs in the re-telling of the Kansas City shootings caught the attention of Wichita's Police Chief who says police need lawmakers' help to prevent situations like this.  He says we're seeing similar gang problems in Wichita again.

"We have these... these shootings,  We've got a, you know, little slight uptick in the last six weeks.  And, you know, I'm recognizing their names," the chief said.

He believes the uptick is due in large part to gang violence, much of it at the hands of gang members getting out of prison after serving terms for crimes committed during a crackdown in the 1990s and early 2000s.  

"I'm recognizing the people involved.  And that's a problem we can't effectively deal with, the same offenders over and over again," Ramsay explained.  "It's not all about arresting.  It's about... you know a lot of gang issues are a result of poverty and lack of opportunities."

In other words, it's a greater societal problem, much more complex than just the crimes themselves.  The chief sees several ways state lawmakers can help solve that problem.

He says they can start by putting more funding into prevention programs.

"Kansas is looking at spending a significant amount of money on either a new prison or sending people out of state.  But yet we're not increasing funding for after school activities for kids," he said. "Because when we're dealing with shootings, we're too late.  If we can get them earlier and have after school activities and programs available for them, and keep them in school and get them reading and educated.  That's the win." 

Second, he thinks the state needs to provide more mental health treatment options.   He says currently, if someone comes to police saying they need drug addiction treatment, they have to wait six months for a bed to open up.

"Even if someone wants to get in, that is having to commit crime to feed their habit, our only option is jail," he said.  All at a time when meth is a major problem in the state.  "Our state is flooded with methamphetamine.  It's never been cheaper.  It's never been more available.  And for those that suffer from addiction, that's a bad combination, cost and availability. So what we lack is... a robust treatment option."

And third, he says lawmakers should give police more tools once a crime has been committed.  For example, give officers the ability to shutdown problem businesses.

"There's several hotels where we spend so many police hours there it would almost be cheaper for us to put someone behind the counter," Ramsay said.  "That hotel should lose their license because of the problems they're causing in the community."

Another tool would be to make it illegal for a documented gang member to have a gun.

"When we identify a gang member, per the state statute that meets the gang criteria, it's my opinion that is a wonderful tool for our police officers," he said.
Finally, Ramsay thinks lawmakers should commission a study of crime in Kansas.

"2017 we had the highest homicide numbers ever in our state.  Our aggravated assaults are up significantly, for many consecutive years.  We need to examine why this is happening," Ramsay said.  "I think we need an objective study to say why is violent crime in Kansas rising, where many of our other surrounding states?" 

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