Violent crime in Kansas City decreases after officers focus more on drug overdose investigations

KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Barb Walsh is haunted by the suspicion that her daughter died after ingesting water tainted with diluted fentanyl. However, the tragedy remains unresolved, with no arrests made, leaving Walsh frustrated, particularly since her daughter, Sophia, was in the company of only one other person at the time of her death.

“D.A.s look at their track record–their win/loss record. They get to decide whether they want to accept a case to prosecute or not. If they think it’s too difficult, and they might lose, they often don’t take it,” Walsh said during a Grieving Out Loud podcast episode.

In fact, the Drug Enforcement Administration wrote in a press release, “U.S. Attorneys who prosecute these cases need solid evidence of who sold the deadly dose of a drug before filing charges.”

“They’re not easy cases,” U.S. Attorney Sayler Fleming, from the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Eastern District of Missouri, said. “Due to challenges with evidence and other complications, in some instances we feel it more appropriate to pursue lesser charges.”

However, Kansas City police have decided to focus more on drug overdose and fentanyl poisoning investigations, and the results have been shocking. According to the Kansas City Star, violent crime has significantly dropped in the city with some rates being at “historical lows.” The newspaper reports that within one year, homicides dropped 41%, rapes 38%, and aggravated batteries 45%.

“We relate a lot of that to the way that we’re attacking fentanyl,” Kansas City, Kansas, Police Chief Karl Oakman told the Star.

So how has their approach changed? Oakman says that he took lessons from how crack cocaine was policed decades ago. 

With crack, he told The Star, “It was ‘Put everyone in jail. You’re in possession, you’re using it, we don’t care, you’re going to jail.’”

Contrasting the earlier approach of mass arrests for crack cocaine, Oakman emphasized that the current strategy involves dispatching a police and prosecution team to every overdose death scene, concentrating efforts on dealers and suppliers while leveraging users for information. This initiative, launched in January 2022, also emphasizes drug education and prevention.

“This is not about putting your kiddos in jail,” Wyandotte County District Attorney Mark Dupree said, according to the Star. “This is about getting the folks who are putting this drug on our streets.”

Despite the increased focus on drug investigations, some people still question whether the department is doing enough. Max Burger, whose daughter died from fentanyl poisoning three months ago, voiced his frustrations.

“They never asked me nothing. They never talked to me about nothing. I could have told them some people to ask. What I think is they don’t care,” Burger told the Star.

However, a KCK spokesman says the death is very much an active investigation.