KC plans to attack violent crime as a disease

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- A new effort to prevent bloodshed and stop violence is focused on attacking the problem as a disease. The strategy targets crime as a public health threat.

The Violence Free Kansas City Committee has brought in California's Prevention Institute to help create safer neighborhoods by examining how we engage with each other and try to create better connections between people.

"It takes all of us to be really mindful of how we are relating to each other," said Lisa Parks, associate director of the Prevention Institute. "How we are being role models in the community. How we are making sure everyone is included. Having access to conditions that make violence the norm, the expected choice and the easy choice for everyone to make."

Public health experts believe stresses in urban core neighborhoods where violent behavior is contagious, can be traced to societal issues like discrimination, racism, sexism and poverty.

In dangerous neighborhoods, the committee believes many suffer from a feeling of failure and sense of hopelessness that breaks down social norms which usually would prevent people from lashing out.

The public health approach seeks to eradicate violence as a disease by eliminating its breeding grounds.

"It’s not just focusing on violence but what is the reason behind the violence," said Tracie McClendon-Cole, deputy health director. "If we are gong to talk about trauma, talk about trauma from an individual level population level, we have to look at policies we put in place. We have to look at places where people live and their environment. As well as people themselves, what are ways we can help make people more healthy."

Improving economic opportunities is a big part of the violence prevention campaign.

In Minneapolis, Minn., where the public health approach is used, a partnership between businesses, government and schools quadrupled the number of jobs for teenagers, resulting in a 60 percent drop in youth homicides over a six-year period.

The violence free committee seeks to identify gaps in neighborhoods that are helping spread the disease, and then build community assets to fight off the infection.