The KC Strip is the sirloin of Kansas City media, a critical cut of surmisin' steak that each week weighs in on the issues of the day, dictating its column to Pitch writers.


Faced with out-of-control crime, Chief Corwin pleads the Fifth.

Just for the hell of it, the Strip will now summarize the recent public comments of Jim Corwin, who has just completed his first year as Kansas City, Missouri's chief of police:

It's not my fault!

Last week, a Jackson County judge spared Corwin the indignity of having to appear in court and explain why the police edited a video that they'd given to lawyers in a criminal case. The deleted portion of the video shows officers applying a fifth Taser blast to a handcuffed suspect; it also shows the suspect, Matthew Burt, expressing a desire to talk to a lawyer.

Burt is accused of stealing a truck and resisting arrest. His lawyers discovered the missing footage when a TV news station aired the fifth Taser hit in a report about how two of Burt's arresting officers had been fired. Oops!

Corwin escaped a contempt citation when Judge John Torrence accepted his explanation that police did not willfully disobey a court order to provide the full video. Speaking to reporters, Corwin characterized the matter as "a lack of communication."

Ah, the proverbial lack of communication. Here's a quick lesson from the Strip: Whenever a public official cites a "lack of communication," he or she is trying to hide a much deadlier sin, such as negligence or stupidity. It's like when folks say "Now is not the time to start pointing fingers" — that's usually the exact moment when people ought to be gettin' fingered.

Torrence didn't arrest Chief Corwin, but the judge still criticized his department for Nixonizing the dashboard video. "It troubles me anytime a law enforcement agency ... sees fit to make decisions that put it in the role of judge or jury," Torrence said, according to the account in The Kansas City Star.

Corwin's got some cojones, though. As if not being held in contempt were an accomplishment, the chief used the occasion to tell reporters what an upstanding guy he was — in third person, no less.

"[T]his police department is above reproach," Corwin said. "The police chief is above reproach. And what I said earlier, when I became chief a year ago, is exactly what I meant, that the trust with the police department and the community is utmost with this organization. And I continue to tell you, the community can trust this chief, can trust this police department and can trust the board of police commission to run a fine organization."

But this testy tenderloin isn't feeling so generous with its trust. Because just last month, the chief made a dubious claim in what sure looked like an effort to avoid taking responsibility for the city's murder toll.

At this writing, police have logged 108 homicides in Kansas City. The last year in which the city saw more than a hundred killings was 2001.

Sure, leaders are trying to address the situation. Commissions have been formed, vigils held. Back when the death toll was ticking toward 100, Corwin talked about the violence with Star reporter Christine Vendel. The chief's message? Brace yourselves for more bloodshed.

"This year is not a blip," the chief told Vendel. "It appears to be the beginning of a trend."

Corwin's fears were supposedly backed up by statistics. He noted a link between the crime rate and the population of young men — yeah, young black men in particular. The number of young men between 18 and 24 had increased by 11 percent since 1995 and was expected to climb until about 2010, he said.

"Our analysis is telling us we can expect an upward trend in homicides," Corwin told the Star.

On October 13, the same day the chief's comments appeared in the paper, Corwin paid a visit to City Hall. As the Strip watched him chat up the members of the City Council, it sort of seemed as if the chief regretted making a connection between race and crime. "I want to make sure there's no confusion," Corwin said at the beginning of his presentation.

At least the chief didn't blame a miscommunication.

In asking for what amounted to a do-over of his comments in that morning's paper, the chief might have been remembering the loads of crap hurled at conservative commentator Bill Bennett back in September, when Bennett suggested on his radio show that aborting black babies would reduce the crime rate.

At City Hall, Corwin set aside race — but stuck to the idea that a population surge among young adults meant trouble. Using PowerPoint (hey, at least it wasn't a Taser!), the chief showed a graph that tracked homicide rates and the percentage of the population between ages 18 and 24. "We should be paying attention to this," Corwin said.

Should we?

The chief's lecture struck this slab of meat as just plain goofy. First, he kept referring to people in that age group as "adolescents." This calculating cutlet doubts that adolescents are old enough to vote and join the Marines.

But enough about semantics. Corwin's fixation on demographics also suffered from a lack of compelling evidence.

Corwin came to City Hall armed with copies of an academic study that examined the relationship between demographics and crime. Sure enough, the study describes how the youth population (yeah, black youth in particular) will expand in coming years.

But the Strip wonders whether Corwin read the whole thing.

The authors of the study — titled "Deadly Demographics" — do see a relationship between age groups and crime rates. But it's not a powerful relationship. James Alan Fox and Alex R. Piquero determine that demographics played only a "modest" role in the drop in crime during the 1990s.

How modest? Just 10 percent.

Experts attribute other factors (a good economy, creative policing strategies) for the relatively calm '90s. Hell, the best-selling book Freakonomics makes a convincing if ghoulish case that legalized abortion played an important role, too. (Freakonomics argues that, by reducing the number of unwanted babies, Roe v. Wade effectively shallowed the pool of future criminals. Bennett was talking about the book with a caller when he made his comment about aborting black babies, a notion he immediately labeled "morally reprehensible.")

But back to Corwin. The Strip is happy to know that its police chief is open to law-enforcement techniques such as statistical analyses. But to this burnt end, Corwin's doomsday predictions sounded suspiciously like a guy looking for excuses, not solutions.

Bodies piling up? Hey, blame the census!

The Strip put in a call to police HQ to ask whether the chief might have overstated his case for demographics. A department spokesman, Capt. Rich Lockhart, said the city's homicide rate was a "multivariate" problem.

"I don't think he's saying that the demographic is the reason or that it would be the reason in the future," Lockhart said. "I think what he's saying is that, should this trend continue, that we saw over the last few years, where this group is increasing, then that could be the case."

Chief, consider your bet hedged.

Corwin's fear of problem "adolescents" may prove to be as hallucinatory as the superpredator warnings of a decade ago.

Remember the superpredator? He was the lawless teenager with no conscience. And he was coming in waves. In the 1996 story "Superpredators Arrive," Newsweek described "a generation so numerous and savage that they'll take the violence to the next level." The book Body Count warned that "the youngest, biggest and baddest generation any society has ever known" was upon us.

Lock your doors! Run for the suburbs! The superpredator warnings and other alarms propelled the get-tough-on-crime movement, which led to harsher sentences and meaner prisons.

But the prediction never materialized, and the '90s closed with eight straight years of falling crime rates. Superpredator? Superhype.

The person credited for coming up with the term superpredator, incidentally, is an egghead named John J. DiIulio Jr. DiIulio managed to live down what called "one of the most disastrously wrong predictions in the annals of public intellectuals" when, in his first term, George W. Bush named DiIulio the director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives.

Hey, we're all for second chances. As for Chief Corwin, the Strip hopes he finds Step 1 in Year 2: admitting he has a problem.


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