KC mayoral candidates engage students with forum on crime

Before spring break began, some students may have been preparing for a fun night out. But many students and UMKC community members were advocating for the safety of their future and spreading local political awareness as Kansas City mayoral candidates visited campus for a forum on crime.

Six of the 11 candidates running were present and delivered a thought-provoking debate, fueled by their commitment to improving the community. Mayoral candidates who attended the forum were Alissia Canady, Phil Glynn, Henry Klein, Quinton Lucas, Steve Miller and Scott Wagner.

Questions highlighted mental illnesses, drug offenses, murder rates and homelessness.

As the April 2 primary election approaches (which determines the two candidates who will compete in June 18 general election), the forum gave students a platform to understand where the candidates stand on critical issues.

The event, organized by UMKC’s Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology and CJC Student Club, was the first forum for the candidates on a university campus.

Here is a summary of what each candidate had to say:

(Candidates were given the questions one week in advance to help articulate answers. All questions and dialogue were moderated by UMKC Distinguished Professor of Public Affairs and Political Science Allan Katz.)

What is your position on addressing non-violent drug offenses and drug use in Kansas City? Some believe it should be handled outside of the criminal justice system, and if elected mayor, what specific strategy would you implement to address drug use?

Henry Klein: Acknowledged those who get caught in an economical spiral, where drug issues are seen. People should not be penalized for minor drug possessions, and marijuana should be legalized. Change the penalty criminal records have on minor drug offenses, which keeps people from succeeding in future.

Scott Wagner: Bringing in people for small amounts of marijuana is not solving anybody’s problem. “The challenges of this time with more liberal policies towards marijuana, there’s no questions that were going further towards the recreational use of marijuana,” and laws, prosecution and enforcement need to respond to it. Continue with the Municipal Court and Drug Court’s exceptional work at saving lives and pointing them in a better direction.

Alissia Cannady: Engage with people proactively who are dealing with substance abuse issues, not just upon entering the system. Supports legalization of marijuana as it would “remove the pretext interaction from law enforcement.” Remove the impact of having to mark drug-related offenses on applications. Help those who are likely to reoffend through social support, like recovery treatment centers. Deal with it as addiction through a public health perspective.

Steve Miller: “Get ahead of the curve on recreational use of marijuana outside of the criminal justice system,” which will be more efficient, economic and effective in the end. Focus on violent crimes.

Quinton Lucas: In reference to the 1970’s Rockefeller Drug Laws from New York State where “tough on crime” strategies ultimately failed, treat marijuana possession like a real illness. “Specialty courts are a good step. Try to move away from incarceration in almost every opportunity we can to make sure this is about treatment.” Altering financial spending on incarceration to a larger mental health focus will make a real difference.

Phil Glynn: Handle as many nonviolent drug offenses outside of a “traditional court system” as possible because in reality, it’s addiction. In addition to being morally wrong and impractical, it will save taxpayers money and resources. “In addition to court related policies that have been discussed here, we need to always bring this back to what are the two biggest problems in KC right now: a lack of affordable housing and a lack of quality jobs.”

Homeless population here in town, what we should be doing and should we take the homeless out of the criminal justice system and do something else?

Quinton Lucas: Respectively noted the work of Scott Wagner towards addressing the homelessness issue. Ensure adequate funding for mental health treatment in KC. Opposes criminalizing poverty, such as proposals like the panhandling ordinance. Stop trying to put people into jail. Address how housing insecurity is real and, while thinking of lending programs, it’s not just for homeowners. “Make sure that somebody who’s living on the edge everyday has the opportunity to hang on.”

Steve Miller: Treat homelessness (at least some forms of it), at root cause, as mental illness. Important that the city does what it can to fund programs. City council has authority to fund and has about $26 million towards Truman Medical. Continue to make certain we fully fund Truman, “the only safety net possible in the entire state of Missouri,” and ensure the money gets there. Work on police development and training on an ongoing basis.

Scott Wagner: Has previously worked to open the Assessment and Triage Center off of 12th and Prospect as an alternative to jail. Acknowledged the 24-hour stay issue at the Center and that more assistance is needed from the state budget. Discussed the issue of homeless individuals contacting emergency services; recommends the approach of case managing the highest users of these services like other large cities and says it will be cheapest this way.  

Alissia Cannady: Homelessness is a social issue, and we don’t currently provide adequate services to address homelessness and those suffering from mental health and substance abuse issues. Address them as individuals and meet their individual needs. Implement a housing system and remove housing access barriers for those who may have drug convictions, credit issues and/or are unable to get utilities.

Phil Glynn: “Homelessness costs us a lot of money.” Do a social impact bond to address homelessness in KC. Bring in a national foundation like a large nonprofit which can afford to pay upfront costs.

Henry Klein: Mental health is a big problem and there has to be a fundamental change in how we do things. Must have local control of police department.

What’s your stance on the use of law enforcement including the privatization of law enforcement? The policing of city spaces like Westport, Country Club Plaza, etc. Also explain what in fact candidates might have in police community relations and how would you address this issue if you were elected mayor?

Phil Glynn: It’s always going to be uncomfortable and there’s always going to be resistance to privatizing functions of law enforcement. Fully funding law enforcement.

Scott Wagner: “Let’s remind ourselves that not everything is about Westport. Sometimes just in little neighborhoods, like in old Northeast, having someone who can provide a little extra assistance paid for by someone else can help law enforcement in its most general sense.”

Henry Klein: Policing as a public entity is best. Turning it over to a private sector may not be in the best interest of the public.

Alissia Cannady: “Public safety is a critical function of local government.” Expects officers to protect and serve. Supports privatization of Westport sidewalks from a public safety standpoint, because there were too many people of color being shot and killed in Westport. As a result of privatization, there were no more shootings in Westport last summer.

Quinton Lucas: Your constitutional rights don’t stop when you walk into Westport. Believes privatizing Westport streets was the wrong decision and restricted the rights and freedom and black and brown men in Kansas City. Says that lots of the black men who were shot in or around Westport were shot outside the privatized area. “We still have risks in our community, we still have danger in our community, and the way to fix it is not just ignoring the rights of black and brown people in KC.”

Alissia Cannady (Rebuttal to Lucas): It takes action to save lives. We pay over $100,000 a year for screeners to stand at each checkpoint to make sure people’s constitutional rights are not being violated. What we can prove is that no one else was shot after privatization was implemented. If black lives matter then what are you doing to protect them?

Quinton Lucas (Rebuttal to Cannady): Others have been shot and killed right outside of the perimeter. “They weren’t trying to actually protect and address the issue of violent crime and people getting murdered who were right in that, what they were trying to do is keep their party area and be able to close it down for this two block radius. “Safeguards don’t mean anything if you don’t have an opportunity to actually avail yourself of it.”

Steve Miller: Providing law enforcement is a fundamental obligation of the city. We need to work in this community to build better bonds of trust. Privatizations destabilize trust. Everyone in this city should feel safe. We should train our police to avoid profiling, sensibly approach people, de-escalate situations, and control crowds.

For updates on this week’s mayoral primary, check out www.unews.com.

vrgomez@mail.umkc.edu

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