(Also A New Election, A New Direction & A New COMBAT Director)
“Our community today needs more than ever for COMBAT to effectively reduce the disastrous impacts of illegal drugs and violence. We must set as a goal making COMBAT an even more valuable community resource.”
— Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker (October 29, 2018)1
A bullet can leave scars that can’t be seen.
As the sometimes turbulent 20-teens draw to a close, COMBAT and the Jackson County Prosecutor’s Office—along with their community partners—will implement two innovative programs dedicated to repairing all the damage a gunshot might cause. Neither program would be possible without the community’s ongoing support for the anti-crime tax.
Caring For Crime Survivors is launched within months of the County Legislature passing a 2017 ordinance placing COMBAT’s day-to-day operations under the direct supervision of the Prosecutor. This new program—true to its name—helps victims become survivors. The Caring begins with a needs assessment and then doing all that’s possible to meet the survivor’s specific needs. The assistance can range from providing long-term counseling to patching the holes in a teenager’s bedroom walls, so that she doesn’t have to see physical reminders of her near-miss during a random shooting in her neighborhood.2
“Often the first step in Caring For Crime Survivors…is getting a house-turned-into-a-crime-scene repaired, so the family living there can feel at home again.” — jacksoncountycombat.com3
Project RISE, meanwhile, will be introduced in late 2019 to address the psychological well-being of individuals who’ve survived the physical harm of a GSW—“GSW” being the medical acronym for a gunshot wound. COMBAT and the Jackson County Prosecutor’s Office partner with Truman Medical Center/University Health to offer every GSW survivor being treated at TMC/UH “Psychological First Aid” that includes evaluating their risk of long-term Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.4
Within Project RISE’s first 21 months, nearly 300 GSW survivors will be screened for PTSD.5
“If we think about a broad vision for what we want to accomplish through Project RISE, we would hope that through providing more effective and immediate intervention, we can help people recover more fully from their injuries—physically, psychologically and emotionally. They will be able to live longer, happier, more fulfilling lives, so that this trauma doesn’t have to be the defining moment in their lives.”
— Dr. Joah Williams, TMC/UH Behavioral Health Unit Clinical Psychologist (November 2019)6
Both Project RISE and Caring For Crime Survivors provide services to individuals whose criminal cases might never be solved and referred to the Prosecutor’s Office for formal charges to be considered. They also represent the unique services made available to crime survivors in Jackson County due to COMBAT funding.
Ultimately, the Jackson County Legislature approves how revenue through the anti-crime tax is distributed. But the power to restructure COMBAT’s current governance now rests with the voters of Jackson County.
Eleven months after the County Legislature passes an ordinance in December of 2017 to end nearly a decade of COMBAT being under the near-exclusive purview of the County Executive—with COMBAT oversight shifting to the Prosecutor’s Office—the voters are given an opportunity to go even further. They approve a ballot measure changing the County Charter to “grant the Prosecuting Attorney broad authority over the County’s anti-drug/anti-crime sales tax subject to prescribed legislative oversight.”7
The voters’ approving the Charter change means any future effort to reorganize COMBAT’s governance would require another vote of the people.
The Jackson County Prosecutor will also appoint COMBAT’s new Executive Director, Vince Ortega in 2018. During his nine years as COMBAT’s Deputy Director, the former Kansas City Police Deputy Chief had worked on multiple law enforcement initiatives, then began in 2014 concentrating on building community coalitions to address drug abuse and violence from multiple angles.8
The shift in COMBAT’s direction and appointment of a new director both follow a fourth call for voters to renew Jackson County’s anti-crime tax. What sets apart the vote in 2016 is COMBAT’s inclusion on a ballot during a November presidential election with a high turnout. The tax measure had only previously been voted upon in special elections—with relatively low voter participation—dating back to the initial 1989 election.
The higher turnout of 300,000-plus voters only results in the highest ever level of support for the anti-crime tax: 73.17%.9
“Please, God, don’t let me forget how bad this hurt. That tore my heart out. But that’s the law.”
— Jackson County Family Drug Court participant (October 2012)10
TUESDAY, APRIL 24, 2012
The Missouri Narcotic Officers Association names the Jackson County Drug Task Force the Law Enforcement Unit of the Year. The COMBAT-funded Task Force, comprised of detectives from Eastern Jackson County police departments, seized more than $4.5 million in drugs in 2011, while making 244 arrests.11
MONDAY, OCTOBER 1, 2012
Children and Family Futures (CFF), a non-profit organization striving to prevent child abuse and neglect, advises courts across the nation through an agreement with the United States Justice Department. When evaluating the Jackson County Family Drug Court, CFF declares the COMBAT-supported program one of five “model courts” in the United States.12
Through the court, launched in December of 1998, lawyers, social workers and child advocates work together to address abuse and neglect, while overseeing rigorous treatment programs for parents with substance use disorders. The court tries to balance offering compassion for those parents while strictly assuring they’re participating in treatment—and passing frequent drug tests—so they can safely be reunited with their children. (Parents accused of violent physical or sexual abuse are ineligible for the program.)
Molly Merrigan, the Family Drug Court’s commissioner since its 1989 founding, stresses, “I’ve done this kind of work for more than 30 years and no would choose to be this way. They love their children, but they make some poor choices.”13
There are more than 350 family drug courts in the United States. CFF program director Phil Breitenbucher calls Jackson County’s a “premier program.”14
MONDAY, DECEMBER 9, 2013
COMBAT’s first-ever grants for violence prevention are awarded. The Jackson County Legislature approves $540,000 in funding to 14 non-profit agencies and the City of Sugar Creek to provide programs addressing violence.15
THURSDAY, OCTOBER 29, 2015
Kansas City is one of only eight cities to earn a 2015 Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Culture of Health Prize, which “honors communities which place a high priority on health and bring partners together to drive local change.” The prize recognizes collaborative efforts concentrating on reducing violence, promoting literacy and organizing communities.
In announcing it was honoring Kansas City, the RWJF specifically cited the work of COMBAT.16
Jackson County Legislators vote to put renewal of the anti-crime tax—formerly the anti-drug tax, now commonly called COMBAT—on the ballot in November. The timing of this ballot measure is unique, however:
- Jackson Countians made history, when in a 1989 special election they approved the new quarter-cent sales tax. Their vote made Jackson County the first jurisdiction in the nation with a tax dedicated to addressing drug abuse and drug-related crime.
- They extended the tax in 1995, 2003 and 2009. Each time support for COMBAT was overwhelming but amid low voter turnout in what were, again, special elections.
- Turnout for the November 2016 election is expected to be high. The COMBAT tax question will be sharing a ballot that includes presidential, gubernatorial, senate and congressional candidates—as well as candidates for local offices and several other measures such as state constitutional amendments.
- And for the first time voters are being asked to extend the tax nine years, rather than seven. If approved again, the tax, set to expire in 2018, would be renewed through March 31, 2027.
WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 2, 2016
In an advertisement urging voters to renew COMBAT, the Citizens For A Safer Jackson County notes—in ALL CAPS—“TUESDAY’S BALLOT IS A LONG ONE. PLEASE BE PATIENT AND VOTE ON ALL THE ISSUES.”17
Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker is emphatic about how essential COMBAT has become: “COMBAT is critically important in preventing violence and reducing the level of violence in the community.”18
Meanwhile, Jackson County Executive Frank White, Jr. points out COMBAT funds nearly 100 prevention and treatment programs, as well as “law enforcement officers who are vital to our community’s safety.” He states, “Many lives are touched every day by COMBAT.”19
TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 8, 2016
A combined total of 81,376 votes were cast in the 2003 and 2009 special elections that extended the Jackson County anti-drug/crime tax. On Election Day 2016 more than 300,000 votes will be tallied for this ballot measure:
Shall Jackson County continue its anti-crime sales tax, commonly known as COMBAT, at the rate of one-quarter of one cent for a period of nine years for the purpose of promoting and providing public safety within Jackson County, including the prevention and treatment of drug abuse and addiction and the prevention, investigation, prosecution and detention of violent criminals and drug dealers? The proceeds of this tax shall be deposited in a special Jackson County Anti-Crime Sales Tax Trust Fund, separate from the general fund or any other county funds.20
And the higher voter turnaround only results in the most support yet for the anti-crime tax: 220,664 votes for versus 80,921 against—a stupendous 73.17%-to-26.83% margin.
“We work with a vulnerable population. People for whom $500 is too much money. There was an older woman whose sliding glass doors had been shot out and were still boarded up more than two years later. She couldn’t afford the $500 or $600. I don’t remember how much it cost, but I’ll never forget when she got referred for this program and we fixed those doors for her. She wept. They were tears of joy because the sunshine had finally come back into her home.”
— - Branden Mims, AdHoc Group Against Crime Director of Crisis Intervention (April 2021)21
MONDAY, NOVEMBER 6, 2017
The Jackson County Legislature introduces an ordinance that would shift control over COMBAT’s day-to-day operations from the County Executive’s Office to the Prosecutor. The ordinance would give the Prosecutor the authority to appoint the COMBAT executive director and oversee COMBAT’s budget, pending legislative approval.22
Legislators will later pass the ordinance and then vote to override a County Executive’s veto.
WEDNESDAY, MARCH 28, 2018
The Jackson County Prosecutor’s Office announces that in early 2018 it launched a new program, Caring For Crime Survivors, to provide assistance to victims—with the intend of helping them move on with their lives so that they can become true survivors. COMBAT provides $100,000 to get Caring For Crime Survivors up and running.
While police are concentrating on investigating the crimes committed, law enforcement agencies can make referrals to this program to get the crime survivors more help. Assistance can range from shopping for groceries and patching bullet holes, to providing grief and trauma counseling.
“We put an awfully big burden at the feet of police to solve all of our community’s problems,” says Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker. “They have a different role here and their job should not be stepping in and taking care of all victims of crime as well.”23
Victim advocates from the Prosecutor’s Office work with the Ad Hoc Group Against Crime to reach out to crime survivors and assess their needs—then do all that’s possible to meet those needs.
Caring For Crime Survivors
“Although a case might never be passed along the to the Prosecutor’s Office for charges, that doesn’t mean there isn’t anything we can do to help these crime victims become crime survivors who are better able to get on with their lives.” The Caring For Crime Survivors program—created by the Prosecutor’s Office and operated in partnership with the AdHoc Group Against Crime, with funding from COMBAT—can provide referrals to counseling and facilitate repairs to property damaged during a crime. AdHoc has many of the doors pierced with bullets transformed into artwork.
“Reducing crime takes a real partnership that goes far beyond law enforcement.”
— New COMBAT Executive Director Vince Ortega (October 29, 2018)24
FRIDAY, AUGUST 31, 2018
The Jackson County Legislature acted within its power when it voted in December of 2017 to move oversight of COMBAT from the County Executive to the County Prosecutor, rules Circuit Court Judge George E. Wolf. The judge’s decision clears the way for the Prosecutor to appoint a new COMBAT director, more than a year after Stacey Daniels-Young’s retirement.25
MONDAY, OCTOBER 29, 2018
Calling him “highly qualified to take on the significant task of directing COMBAT into the future,” Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker names Vince Ortega the new COMBAT Executive Director. Ortega had been COMBAT’s Deputy Director since 2009, and previously served 30 years in the Kansas City Police Department, rising to the rank of Deputy Chief before retiring in 2006.
Ortega sets as one of his highest priorities forming coalitions throughout the county to reduce violence and illegal drugs in vulnerable neighborhoods.
“I’ve learned a great deal in my nine years at COMBAT that reducing crime takes a real partnership that goes far beyond law enforcement,” Ortega says. “Building community involvement in this effort will be an important key to success.”
Peters Baker selected Ortega from candidates screened through a COMBAT Director Nominating Committee that included County Legislators, COMBAT Commissioners and others, including former COMBA Director Stacey Daniels-Young.
“Our community today needs more than ever for COMBAT to effectively reduce the disastrous impacts of illegal drugs and violence” says Peters Baker. “We must set as a goal making COMBAT an even more valuable community resource.”26
TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 6, 2018
Voters approve a change to the Jackson County Charter “grant[ing] the Prosecuting Attorney broad authority over the County’s anti-drug/anti-crime sales tax subject to prescribed legislative oversight.”
Voters essentially endorse the County Legislators’ actions in December of 2017 when the Legislature unanimously approved an ordinance shifting day-to-day supervision of COMBAT from the County Executive to the County Prosecutor. But the vote to change the charter also carries the added weight of requiring another vote of the people if there’s a future effort made to reorganize COMBAT.27
Jackson County Prosecutor’s Office
• The Prosecutor is responsible for supervising the day-to-day administration of COMBAT.
Jackson County COMBAT Commission
• Chapter 93 of the County Code, entitled “Anti-Crime Sales Tax,” states the commissions role is to “establish goals for COMBAT funding and make recommendations on all funding requests for COMBAT initiatives.”
• The nine Commissioners are appointed by the County Executive.
• One member is appointed from each of the six County Legislative districts and three are appointed at-large.
• The County Prosecutor appoints the Commission chairperson.
Jackson County Legislature
• While the COMBAT Commission can make funding recommendations, the County Legislature has final approval on the distribution of all COMBAT funds to both county departments and outside agencies.
TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 3, 2019
RISE stands for Responsive Individualized Support and Early intervention. And Project RISE is introduced to provide gunshot wound survivors with care that addresses what might be the unseen harm they’ve suffered.
Specifically, the psychological trauma.
COMBAT, the Jackson County Prosecutor’s Office, Truman Medical Center/University Health (TMC/UH) and the University of Missouri-Kansas City team up to create Project RISE. Through the program, all gunshot wound (GSW) victims receiving treatment at TMC/UH are also offered “Psychological First Aid.” This aid can be administered once the person is physically stabilized—often while they’re still in the emergency room—and it includes assessing their risk for long-term Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Follow-up care can include short- or, if needed, long-term counseling.
Project RISE arose from COMBAT and the Jackson County Prosecutor’s reaction to the stunning results of a five-year study that had tracked what became of GSW victims in Seattle, Washington:
- Compared to the general public, these GSW survivors were 21 times more like to get shot—again.
- They were four times more likely to die in another firearm-related incident.28
“It wasn’t until the late 1990s or early 2000s that the first literature was published on the need to start treating gunshot wound victims for post-traumatic stress disorders,” says Dr. Joah Williams, a clinical psychologist with TMC/UH’s Behavioral Health Unit.29
Project RISE will utilize methods developed to treat combat veterans and survivors of major disasters, including 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001, for PTSD. During Project RISE’s first 21 months, TMC/UH will screen nearly 300 gunshot word survivors to gauge their risk of developing long-term PTSD complications.30
7 Jackson County & Kansas City Election Boards
9 Jackson County & Kansas City Election Boards
10 The Kansas City Star October 1, 20
11 The Kansas City Star April 24, 2012
12 The Kansas City Star October 1, 2012
13 The Kansas City Star October 1, 2012
14 The Kansas City Star October 1, 2012
15 The Kansas City Star December 11, 2013
16 The Kansas City Star October 29, 2015
17 The Kansas City Star November 2, 2016
18 The Kansas City Star November 2, 2016
19 The Kansas City Star November 2, 2016
20 Jackson County & Kansas City Election Boards
23 The Kansas City Star November 6, 2017
24 The Kansas City Star March 28, 2018
25 The Kansas City Star September 1, 2018
27 Jackson County Election Board