COMBAT History Part 3
COMBAT Becomes COMBAT & Drug Court’s In Session

“The citizens of Jackson County are fortunate to have a resource that is unavailable to citizens in other parts of the country. This resource is the anti-drug sales tax…. It is a significant asset to our community. We need to give it support and diligent attention to strengthen it, rather than denigrate it and weaken its potential.”
Alice Kitchen, Children’s Mercy Hospital Director of Social Work and Community Services 
(January 13, 1993, Kansas City Star Op-Ed)

Upon becoming the County Prosecutor, Claire McCaskill focuses on trying to better spread the word about what Jackson County has been able to accomplish since adopting its anti-drug tax. Her emphasis on communications leads to giving the Anti-Drug Sales Tax a much catchier official moniker in May of 1993: COMBAT, an acronym standing for COMmunity Backed Anti-drug Tax.
And, before ’93 ends, the first-ever COMBAT logo is unveiled, prominently featuring a clenched fist, prompting this headline from The Kansas City Star: “Logo for county’s anti-drug tax has punch.” The Star describes the creative process of Tim Hamill, the art director for the KC-based agency, Bernstein-Rein Advertising, which designed the logo:

The first temptation was to go for flashy color, something that captured attention and grabbed your labels.

But no. [The logo] was to be a public image as sober as tax money.

“We decided black and white was the appropriate color scheme—it’s kind of no-nonsense and nonfancy.” Also cheaper and easier to reproduce.

It had to be strong, and the fist seemed right.

“It’s bare-bones and bare knuckles…. It’s not a trendy-looking thing.” The black triangle behind the fist hammers down into sharp point and symbolizes the three-sided tax program—a partnership among law enforcement, the community and government.2

1993 will be a pivotal year for COMBAT.

Jackson County’s new Prosecuting Attorney also appoints a new COMBAT Administrator, Jim Nunnelly, whose first day on the job, April 1, falls on the third anniversary of the county’s anti-drug tax taking effect. Nunnelly is tasked with bridging the gap between law enforcement agencies and drug treatment providers to establish a successful deferred prosecution program.

Six months later—on October 8—the first-ever session of the Jackson County Drug Court is held. Six individuals originally charged with possession appear before Judge Donald L. Mason, who tells them they’ll no longer be considered defendants but instead clients of the court-monitored treatment program. He offers them compassion. If they suffer a relapse and are honest about their drug usage, the judge pledges the Drug Court clients will be offered more help.

But Judge Mason also warns anyone caught selling drugs, while under the Drug Court’s supervision, will be shown no leniency.3 

Before years end, the Jackson County Drug Court has quickly garnered national attention—a role model for other communities to address the drug abuse and drug crime they’re experiencing.



“The community prevention and treatment components of the Jackson County anti-drug tax are so critical. They can save lives.”
 Kansas City Star Editorial (April 18, 1993)4



As he leaves office after 12 years as Jackson County Prosecutor, Albert Riederer shifts his focus from fighting crime to trying to prevent it. He stresses the need for more money to increase the number of social workers and improve foster care, and he calls for alternatives to imprisoning non-violent offenders: “The single biggest force in the 1990s will be alternatives to incarceration—how do you punish people. The time has finally come.”5

Rather than more “get-tough-on-crime” politics, Riederer promotes seeking more “reasonable and scientific” approaches to address crime and violence. Citing National Research Council data showing no decline in violent crime between 1975 and 1989, despite longer prison sentences being handed down during that period, Riederer asks, “How long do you continue to do what you’re doing in the face of obvious failure before you change what you are doing?”


Claire McCaskill considers the biggest mistake made since the county’s anti-drug tax took affect April 1, 1990, “was not to communicate the positive things it has done.” Holding her 1-year-old daughter as she speaks following her swearing-in as Jackson County’s first-ever female prosecutor, McCaskill credits the tax with educating children about drug abuse, providing treatment for thousands who are addicted and leading to many more drug dealers being imprisoned.

McCaskill announces she’ll appoint a citizens committee to oversee the tax and report to the public about its effectiveness.6


The City Council considers a proposal that would allow Kansas City Police officers to be trained as code inspectors and to conduct inspections while working with the Jackson County Drug Abatement Response Team (DART). County Prosecutor Claire McCaskill praises DART as one of the most successful programs funded through the county’s anti-drug tax. The DART Team boarded up 148 drug houses in 1992.7


A nine-person citizen advisory panel is appointed to evaluate Jackson County’s anti-drug tax. “We thought it would be a good idea to see where we have been and to see where we are going,” County Legislative Chairman James Tindall says.8


Jim Nunnelly assumes his new duties as the administrator of Jackson County’s anti-drug sales tax fund—three years to the date that the tax took effect. Prosecutor Claire McCaskill tasks Nunnelly with developing “a more systematic approach” to managing the county’s anti-drug effort, including coordinating deferred prosecution programs and tax-supported community prevention programs. Nunnelly had resigned as chief administrator at the Samuel U. Rodgers Community Health Center to accept the position with Jackson County.9


Jackson County seeks solutions to the drug problem from the very young people many prevention programs are intended to reach: high school students. More than 120 students from 12 different Jackson County school districts gather for the “Kids’ Congress” at Blue Springs South High School. They conducts skits, read poems and even lead cheers as they make recommendations to address both the health and legal perils associated with drug abuse. Their suggestions include comprehensive health education, starting in the elementary school and continuing through high school; courses focusing on the legal consequences of alcohol and drug abuse; and mentoring programs.10 

SUNDAY, APRIL 18, 1993

While overall drug use has declined in recent years, the National Institute on Drug Abuse has revealed adolescents are using illegal substances at an increased rate. In response to this sobering news, The Kansas City Star editorial board notes, “Experts at community health centers in the Kansas City area have warned more than once that adolescents involved with illegal drugs are thwarted in every aspect of life: school, health, employment, their relationship with law enforcement and their relationship with their families. That is why the community prevention and treatment components of the Jackson County anti-drug tax are so critical. They can save lives.”11 

MONDAY, APRIL 26, 1993

New Jackson County COMBAT administrator Jim Nunnelly compares bringing law enforcement and treatment agencies together to bolster the county’s deferred prosecution program with NASA’s Apollo moon program. “We’re flirting with the idea of how to do it,” he says.

Through arrests, law enforcement finds many people needing treatment, while treatment providers have, according to Nunnelly, learned “voluntary treatment can only go so far—you can’t get anybody [into treatment] until you get their attention.”12


“You can’t keep filing prisons with minor drug offenders. We’re arresting the same thugs who commit violent crime over and over again—we’re letting them out the back door while we put people who sell small amounts of crack in the front.”
 Kansas City Police Chief Steven Bishop (August 1993)13



During a special organizing meeting between Jackson County COMBAT officials, the Prosecutor’s Office, Circuit Court judges and local law enforcement agencies, plans to launch the county’s drug court are announced. The special court’s goal is to offer non-violent offenders drug treatment—to not only provide them a second chance but to free up criminal justice system resources to address violent offenses.

“Its goals are to cut crime and reduce drug use—and at the same time create more prison space for killers, rapists and armed robbers,” reports The Kansas City Star:

Welcome to Jackson County’s new drug court and drug diversion program. On Friday, officials for the first time revealed details of the program expected to start in about a month.

The vast plan, now nearing completion, calls for creating a Jackson County drug court that experts say goes further than others and could become a national model. It involves all sectors of law enforcement and drug treatment.14

“You can’t keep filling prisons with minor drug offenders,” says Kansas City Police Chief Steven Bishop. “We’re rearresting the same thugs who commit violent crimes over and over again—we’re letting them out the back door while we put people who sell small amounts of crack in the front.”

Meanwhile, Jackson County Prosecutor Claire McCaskill stresses she’ll be encouraging her assistant prosecutors to look at non-violent drug offenders as “clients instead of defendants,” clients needing treatment and assistance instead of punishment and incarceration.


COMBAT enables Grandview to add some “manpower” to its police department. The Jackson County Legislature authorizes using $9,900 in COMBAT funds to acquire a drug dog for the Grandview Police. “Drug dogs can do the work of two or three men who are searching for drugs,” says County Prosecutor Claire McCaskill.15


History is made as the first session of the Jackson County Drug Court is held. Four men and two women, originally charged with possessing small amounts of cocaine, appear before Circuit Court Judge Donald L. Mason as they enter the year-long program that, if successfully completed, would result in the criminal cases against them being dismissed.

“I expect you to do absolutely what you’re told when you’re told to do it,” Judge Mason tells the six individuals. “Stories that your car broke down or you overslept probably won’t fly.”

The Drug Court program entails extensive drug treatment, counseling, job training and education opportunities.

Despite his stern warnings, the judge also tells the first six people to ever appear before the Jackson County Drug Court, “If you do relapse during this time, tell us about it. It won’t be used against you in a criminal case.”

Those trying to deal with their addiction will be shown mercy, he says, but anyone caught selling drugs while in the program can expect no leniency.15

It doesn’t take long before the Jackson County Drug Court starts attracting attention from other communities seeking solutions to their own drug abuse and drug crime problems.


Judge Donald L. Mason cancels the Friday, December 3 session of the Jackson County Drug Court to attend a National Institute of Justice seminar—“Drug Courts: The Next Steps”—in Miami, Florida. The Jackson County Drug Court has quickly established itself as a model program.

Though just two months have passed since the first Drug Court session was held in Jackson County, the number of active participants has jumped from six to 39—with about another 160 more individuals presently going through the screening process for the treatment-focused program. Drug Court “graduates” must complete a year of drug counseling and stay off drugs, while also being given job skills training or chances to further their education. Those successfully fulfilling the program’s requirements will have the criminal charges that brought them before Judge Mason dropped.

“I’m not really a judge in Drug Court,” says Mason. “I talk to people, boot them, berate them, whatever it takes to get them to listen.”17

1 The Kansas City Star January 13, 1993

The Kansas City Star October 9, 1993

The Kansas City Star December 3, 1993

4 The Kanas City Star April 18, 1993

The Kansas City Star January 1, 1993

6 The Kansas City Star January 4, 1993

7 The Kansas City Star February 5, 1993

8 The Kansas City Star March 2, 1993

9 The Kansas City Star February 11, 1993

10 The Kansas City Star April 15, 1993

11 The Kansas City Star April 18, 1993

12 The Kansas City Star April 26, 1993

13 The Kansas City Star August 28, 1993

14 The Kansas City Star August 28, 1993

15 The Kansas City Star August 31, 1993

16 The Kansas City Star October 9, 1993

17 The Kansas City Star December 1, 1993

» PART 4