WICHITA, Kan. (KAKE) –
"Crime ebbs and flows, and we’re we’re seeing that increase in violence," said Wichita Police Chief Gordon Ramsay. "And, you know, we want to turn it around."
Wichita police blame stolen guns and drugs for a record number of killings in the city last year. It’s a crime trend police want stopped.
The number of homicides rose by 13 percent in 2018, the highest in decades, justifiable homicides more than doubling. The chief sat down with KAKE’s Pilar Pedraza to take a closer look at what’s going on.
"A significant number of the homicides in 2018 have a drug connection," he said.
Police investigated a total of 44 homicides in Wichita last year. A homicide legally is when one human kills another. Some homicides are legal, some are crimes.
It started on January 8th with what’s called a justifiable homicide, a case of self-defense.
"Our first two homicides were one incident – where a homeowner…had people at his door with guns and he shot and killed both of them," Ramsay said. "And that’s how the year started out, was our first two homicides were justifiable."
Justifiable homicides climbed to a high of nine confirmed last year, with Chief Ramsay expecting a shooting last week to become number ten on that list.
"You know when we look at last week’s, very obviously justified you know, with a store being robbed. He had had a gun pointed in his face."
Legal or not, all homicides require the same investigative work and Ramsay says he re-arranged officers early in 2018 to make sure they’d be able to handle the increased case load.
Wichita isn’t alone in seeing an increase in homicides. According to the FBI, there’s been a slow but steady increase in illegal killings across the country over the last ten years, from 398 in 2007 to 429 in 2017, and a nearly 40 percent increase in justifiable homicides, from 257 in 2007 to 353 in 2017. National numbers for 2018 aren’t available yet.
Here in Wichita, along with drugs and mental illness, the chief says most of the cases also involved stolen guns.
"You know, we had two law enforcement officers shot last year, both with stolen guns from vehicles," he said. "Our number of stolen guns is very high. Over the last three years (we’ve seen) over 2000 stolen guns in burglaries, cars."
Those guns aren’t just ending up on sale at pawn shops. The chief says many are ending in the hands of violent criminals.
"It’s a result of the evolution of gun laws and where we are today as a society and how we view guns and people carrying them."
He says the problem comes in two parts.
"We believe that a certain certain number of individuals are looking for guns," he said. "Oftentimes in homes and businesses. They get information that there’s guns there, whether it’s a friend of a friend or acquaintance, coworker, someone knows that there are a stash of guns in this house or business and then it is specifically targeted for those weapons."
And, there are just more guns out there, ever since laws changed in 2012.
"Another concerning area is the amount of guns used in domestic violence, (a) 100 percent increase since 2012," Ramsay said.
He says the city has worked to get ahead of the problem, assigning more officers to handle violent crime investigations, debuting the ShotSpotter technology to respond more quickly to shootings, and looking for ways to divert youth who make up most of the gun offenders from violent lifestyles.
"The effort is intended to prevent versus react," he explained. "To try and get ahead of it. And, you know, I think that’s where many cities have seen their success and we want to emulate that here."
HOW YOU CAN HELP
But, Ramsay says, police can’t do it all. They need your help, too.
If you have a gun, he asks, keep it locked up, safe from thieves and opportunists.
"There are a number of different types of locks for your car and safes for your car as well as your home," he suggests.
Ramsay says Kansas lawmakers could put a big dent in the problems his department faces, as well.
"One of the things I would like to see is, I would love to see gang members that meet their criteria definition, fit the definition of a gang member, they should not be allowed to carry a firearm," Ramsay said.
He’d also like to see lawmakers stiffen penalties for felons who are caught with guns they’re not legally allowed to have.
"I would like to see an increase penalty with mandatory minimums."
Finally, he says, increased funding for treatment for those with drug problems and mental illnesses would help a lot.
"The majority of our property crimes are drug related, right? So people get upset at the police and, as we try and find resources for those suffering from addiction…should it be over at the jail or can we get them help and end this problem once and for all?"
The 2019 legislative session begins in two weeks on January 14th.