COMBAT History Part 5
The Nation Takes Notice

“Community residents demanded action and then taxed themselves to fund it. COMBAT has now delivered, protecting those at risk of using drugs, assisting nonviolent drug users in obtaining treatment, and bringing violent offenders and drug dealers to justice.”
National Institute of Justice (July 1996)1

What sets Jackson County apart? While other communities across the country continue waging the “War On Drugs,” Jackson County, through COMBAT, dedicates much of the 1990s toward changing the paradigm. 

Instead of only pumping more money into law enforcement, COMBAT also provides essential support for prevention and treatment programs. Addressing drug abuse and crime from multiple angles recognizes that these problems aren’t just legal issues but also public health crises. Furthermore, COMBAT funding for treating non-violent offenders wanting to get off drugs frees up jail space and the courts to deal with more violent criminals and dangerous drug dealers.

Simply put, rather than only fighting drugs, COMBAT focuses on helping people. COMBAT’s objective is based on the notion that when you assist individuals in improving the quality of their lives doing so will have a lasting positive impact on their communities.

This holistic approach puts Jackson County ahead of most of the nation. The 1990s end with communities elsewhere realizing the law enforcement-alone tactics of the “War on Drugs” aren’t working—and with a leader in U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) telling Jackson County Legislators that these other communities are just now trying to get “where you were 10 years ago.”

Throughout the latter of half of the ’90s, major studies will be conducted, including ones commissioned by the DOJ and the National Institute of Justice (NIJ). They’ll each reach a similar conclusion: COMBAT, Jackson County’s local effort for addressing drug abuse and drug-related crime, ought to be replicated nationwide.

And the country’s most prestigious newspaper takes notice. The New York Times—in an in-depth feature—calls COMBAT “an ingenious array of local programs” that has fostered “a willingness to work across racial and economic lines to resolve the drug problem.”2

The Louisville Courier Journal soon makes a plea for adopting a COMBAT-style tax in Kentucky’s largest city. The paper’s lead columnist contends that would be preferrable to a poorly funded anti-drug plan geared almost entirely toward hiring more Louisville police officers and paying for police overtime. Such a “one-shot approach” is destined to fail in Louisville, like it has elsewhere.3

Nationally about 85% of anti-drug tax dollars are allotted to police, compared to only slightly more than half of COMBAT funds going toward law enforcement.

As the 10th anniversary of the county’s anti-drug tax nears, NIJ Executive Director Jeremy Travis attends an August 1999 special session of the Jackson County Legislature to present the findings of yet another study calling for COMBAT to become a nationwide role model. He tells the Legislators, “What your community is doing is of national importance.”4



“Some Kansas City residents say the self-imposed tax has strengthened a willingness to work across racial and economic lines to resolve the drug problem.”  The New York Times (July 5, 1997)5


SUNDAY, APRIL 28, 1996

COMBAT Administrator Jim Nunnelly reiterates how essential funding prevention programs is to Jackson County’s quest to curb drug abuse and crime: “Ultimately, the only way we’re going to handle this problem is to make sure children never begin to use drugs in the first place.”6

Through analyzing data collected by COMBAT-funded prevention programs, Nunnelly and his staff have identified several factors common among children at high risk, including failing in school or dropping out, committing delinquent acts, suffering abuse, coping with a physical or mental illness, or being pregnant.

“Part of what we’re trying to do is create a prevention movement in Jackson County,” Nunnelly declares, beginning with identifying at-risk children and developing programs to help them.

This emphasis on prevention sets Jackson County apart from other communities in the nation that center their anti-drug initiatives almost exclusively around law enforcement.

JULY 1996

The National Institute of Justice (NIJ) describes the enormity of COMBAT’s mission. In a sweeping “Program Focus” report, the NIJ, a research and evaluation agency within the U.S. Department of Justice, calls COMBAT “unique” compared to anti-drug efforts in other communities.

And unique in ways that go beyond Jackson County being the only jurisdiction in the nation with a sales tax specifically dedicated to funding drug abuse and drug crime initiatives:

Several aspects of COMBAT distinguish it from these other examples. First is the breadth of COMBAT’s programmatic mission. COMBAT supports a full range of prevention, treatment and law enforcement activities, tackling the consumption and sale of all commonly available illicit drugs. The expansive scope, established in the authorizing legislation, has been enabled by the scale of tax collections. COMBAT’s broad charter has made it possible to establish a presence in the community, to gain the cooperation of the key organizations and constituencies, and to have a discernible impact on patterns of drug use and crime.

From the “full range… of activities” COMBAT supports, the NIJ points to three primary COMBAT objectives:

  1. “Jail(ing) dangerous criminals and drug dealers” with money earmarked to support police investigations, prosecutions, the courts and corrections.
  2. “Treating nonviolent offenders who honestly want to get off drugs” through funding for treatment programs as well as the Drug Court.
  3. “Preventing children from ever experimenting with drugs” by distributing funds to 33 different nonprofit community organizations that have developed prevention programs.

Finally, the NIJ concludes COMBAT’s localize efforts may be more  effective than more generalized national campaigns to fight drugs. The NIJ credits Jackson County citizens for recognizing they needed to act boldly when they initially approved the anti-drug tax in 1989:

Community residents demanded action and then taxed themselves to fund it. COMBAT has now delivered, protecting those at risk of using drugs, assisting nonviolent drug users in obtaining treatment, and bringing violent offenders and drug dealers to justice.7

FRIDAY, JULY 5, 1997

The New York Times covers the world and, in a lengthy feature about the anti-drug program in Jackson County, Missouri, calls COMBAT “an ingenious array of local programs.” The Times describes how Jackson County residents have strongly supported a one-of-a-kind special sales tax to fund its anti-drug initiatives since 1990, first approving the tax in ’89 and then extending it in ’95.

Most other counties or cities still have no dedicated funding source, The Times reports. 8 The scope of all that COMBAT seeks to accomplish is also truly unique, not only providing additional financial resources for law enforcement—the common practice elsewhere—but also supporting drug treatment and prevention programs.

COMBAT has galvanized, The Times article continues, people in Jackson County to take action to improve the quality of life in their neighborhoods:

Some Kansas City residents say the self-imposed tax has strengthened a willingness to work across racial and economic lines to resolve the drug problem.

“It has reinforced the glue that brings people together,” said Ron McMillan, an outreach worker for the Kansas City Free Health Clinic, which provides health care for the indigent. “A lot of this is about getting people in the neighborhoods to say, ‘Hey, we want to do something.’”

McMillian tells Times reporter Christopher S. Wren he moved to Jackson County from New York City because the waiting list in NYC for the drug treatment he needed for himself at the time was too long. He stayed in Kansas City to help others get treatment. “COMBAT gives teeth to what I do,” McMillian says.


Louisville (Kentucky) Courier Journal columnist David Hawpe asks his local readers if they’d be willing to follow Jackson County, Missouri’s lead and adopt a tax to support a community-wide anti-drug and anti-crime initiative. 

While Jackson County’s quarter-cent sales tax generates more than $15 million a year to fund law enforcement, prevention and treatment programs, Hawpe points out Louisville is trying to implement “Strategies for a Safe City,” a 23-point plan, with a comparatively small budget—around $5.5 million. Plus, nearly all that money is allotted to hire more Louisville police officers and to cover overtime pay for the police.

Hawpe compares Louisville’s exclusive focus on law enforcement to Jackson County COMBAT emphasizing treatment and prevention—on top of also being an essential funding source for the county’s Drug Task Force, Prosecutor’s Office, local police and the courts. COMBAT Administrator Jim Nunnelly bluntly tells the Courier Journal only addressing drugs through pouring more money into police is a “one-shot approach” destined to fail.9


“This is bigger than a law enforcement issue.”
 COMBAT Chief of Planning and Development Kristen Rosselli (January 1998)10



COMBAT implements a new Landlord Training Program. These day-long seminars are offered each month to teach landlords and rental property managers how to spot methamphetamine labs, evict drug-dealing tenants and screen new prospective tenants.

The program centers around five housing complexes in central Kansas City to encourage greater cooperation among the property’s owners and management. COMBAT’s partners include the KC Police, the Kansas City Housing Authority and the Department of Housing & Urban Development—as well as tenants living in the five apartment complexes and residents from the surrounding neighborhood.

“This is bigger than a law enforcement issue,” says COMBAT Chief of Planning and Development Kristen Rosselli. “We have to have the whole community involved.”11


The bill for putting one person through Jackson County’s year-long Drug Court program is about $2,500—a tiny fraction of COMBAT’s annual revenue of about $16 million and far less than what imprisoning that same person would have cost taxpayers. According to a study the Kansas City-based Resource Development Institute conducts of the Drug Court, each “graduate” of the program who remains drug-free for three years saves society an estimated $30,000.

About 600 clients per year have been referred to the Drug Court since its inception in 1993.

“For people who graduate and stay clean for years the savings [to society] are astounding,” says Bruce Eddy, the Resource Development Institute’s Executive Director.

The Institute points out Jackson County Drug Court graduates have a recidivism rate of only 4% during the first five months after completing the program—the early timeframe when a relapse might be more likely following participation in a rigid court-supervised treatment regimen. The report also cites a recent California study that determined every dollar spent on drug treatment saves $7 in legal- and heath care-related expenses.

While Drug Court graduates are sustaining their recoveries, the Court’s rate of success in getting the referred clients completely through the program had only been 15% through 1997. Among Drug Court clients, 32% failed the program and 21% withdrew, choosing to face prison or being put on probation.

 The savings and health improvements resulting from participating in Drug Court “are dramatic  for society and for people who stay in the program,” says Eddy. But he adds, “It can’t work unless [the participants are] ready to change.”12


“Study salutes anti-drug effort; public health portion attracts special acclaim.”
 Kansas City Star headline (August 31, 1999)13



COMBAT continues to garner national attention. A Boston-based firm, Abt Associates Inc. spends two years studying COMBAT and concludes Jackson County’s emphasis on prevention and treatment programs, in addition to increased law enforcement efforts, could—and should—be replicated in other communities.

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has long considered COMBAT’s all-encompassing approach to reducing drug abuse and drug-related crime a potential model for the entire nation. The department joined Jackson County and the Kauffman Foundation in commissioning the study, with the DOJ covering half the $500,000 cost.

In a section advising other jurisdictions how to copy COMBAT, Abt Associates Inc. stresses “giving the program a public health focus.”14

Jeremy Travis, Director of the DOJ’s National Institute of Justice, presents the study’s findings during a special session of the Jackson County Legislature. Other communities, he says, across the country are trying follow Jackson County’s lead and implement “a system that mixes carrots and sticks.” 

The Abt Associate report includes three key recommendations: 1) expanding on Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE), which focuses on persuading children not to use drugs, but that  other studies have indicated is ineffective long-term; 2) establishing data-driven criteria for determining how well prevention programs are working; and 3) funding programs treating alcohol abuse.

Travis points out, with regard to prevention program data, “nobody does it” because it is difficult to demonstrate how a specific program directly prevented crime or drug abuse. He also tells the Legislators COMBAT has put Jackson County far ahead of other communities trying to cope with these issues as they are just now trying to get “where you were 10 years ago.”

Although the Abt Associate study has been completed, Travis says the DOJ will continue to monitor COMBAT’s progress and point to the program as a role model for other communities: “What [Jackson County] is doing is of national importance.”15

1 National Institute of Justice Program Focus Report (July 1996)

2 The New York Times July 5, 1997

3 Louisville Courier Journal July 20, 1997

4 The Kansas City Star September 1, 1999

5 The New York Times July 5, 1997

6 The Kansas City April 28, 1996

7 National Institute of Justice Program Focus Report (July 1994)

8 The New York Times July 5, 1997

9 Louisville Courier Journal July 20, 1997

10 The Kansas City Star January 15, 1998

11 The Kansas City Star January 15, 1998

12 The Kansas City Star December 17, 1998

13 The Kansas City Star August 31, 1999

14 The Kansas City Star August 31, 1999

15 The Kansas City Star September 1, 1999

» PART 6