By Kevin Collison
Despite three murders in August, including a young woman struck by a stray bullet last First Friday, downtown Kansas City remains a “relatively safe” place, a top police commander assured business leaders Thursday.
“The main crime problem we have downtown has been pretty much the same over the past 30 years, property crimes,” Deputy Chief Karl Oakman told the Downtown Council, an association of business and property owners.
Oakman emphasized a drive-by shooting that killed two men near 12th and Walnut early Sunday morning Aug. 25 had nothing to do with the nearby Power & Light District.
“It was not related to or connected to Kansas City Power & Light,” he said. “This was clearly a targeted homicide.”
Oakman described the killings of the two men as essentially a hit that could have occurred anywhere at anytime.
“This was clearly a targeted homicide,” he said. “The suspects had trailed the individuals for a significant amount of time. It could have happened in Prairie Village, Lee’s Summit or Gladstone.
“It was just a perfect opportunity for them to catch up to these individuals.”
Oakman said a surveillance camera caught the incident which occurred at about 2:15 a.m. in front of the preserved facade of the old Jenkins Music Building at 1217 Walnut.
The camera showed a silver pickup truck without license plates approach a pedestrian who had been following the two men. The occupants of the truck spoke briefly to the individual and then pulled up next to the victims and shot them.
Leo Moreno Jr., 22, died at the scene. Austin Michael Quijjas, was pronounced dead at the hospital. They were cousins from Kansas City, Kan.
Oakman reemphasized to the Downtown Council the victims had been “targeted.”
“It was not related to Power & Light,” he said. “It was not like they got into it (an altercation) at a tavern or restaurant and took it out to the street.”
Oakman did not shed any additional light on the murder of Erin Langhofer, 25, on First Friday, Aug. 2.
She was killed by one of several rounds fired randomly by a young man involved in a street fight about a block away at 18th and Walnut.
Off-duty police hired to provide security at First Friday quickly apprehended the shooter. Deon’te S. Copkney, 18, of Kansas City, has been charged with second degree murder in connection with the incident, Oakman said.
In response to a question, Oakman said that downtown is now “saturated” with surveillance cameras, although more needs to be done to provide adequate lighting.
“Some parking lots are pretty dark,” he said.
As for other crime, Oakman ran down a list that has occurred in the downtown area from the River Market to Crown Center since Jan. 1. It included 235 auto break-ins; 140 property damage incidents; 26 business burglaries, and 100 stolen autos.
The police chief said auto break-ins remain a serious problem, adding a significant number of guns have been stolen from those cars. The weapons then are frequently sold on the street and used to commit other crimes.
“We have worked to get the word out not to leave valuables in vehicles,” he said.
Oakman said police believe the majority of the break-ins are done by transients and homeless people in the downtown area.
As a result of the First Friday murder and the double-homicide at 12th and Walnut, Oakman said police have met with City Manager Troy Schulte and the Crossroads Community Association to respond to public safety concerns.
The Crossroads Association, which manages the First Friday event, plans to cutback hours and restrict food trucks and street closings, at least for today’s event.
Downtown is one of four districts patrolled by the KCPD Central Division and Oakman said additional patrols are now being scheduled from midnight to 1 a.m., and again from 2:30- to 3 a.m.
The deputy chief estimated that between off-duty police hired for private security and on-duty cops, about 18- to 20 officers, are working the greater downtown area at any given time on weekends, fewer earlier in the week.
Additionally, the Downtown Council, which manages the Downtown Community Improvement District, has increased the hours its unarmed yellow-and-black “Ambassadors” are out.
Sean O’Byrne, vice president, said two employees have been patrolling greater downtown in a marked car from 10:30 p.m. to 6:30 a.m. since May. Their primary assignment of what’s called the “Night Ranger” program is to keep an eye on the homeless population.
O’Byrne said homeless people found sleeping or congregating under bridges and parks are encouraged to go to shelters. An additional $150,000 was spent recently on surveillance cameras at Ilus W. Davis Park.
He said the stepped up security and surveillance has helped reduce the homeless population congregating at that park significantly.
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