COMBAT is making an impact.
The programs funded through the Community Backed Anti-Drug Tax first approved in 1989 have helped reduce drug abuse and drug-related crime in Jackson County. When voters renewed the tax in 2009 — with 71 percent support — COMBAT's mission expanded to include reducing violence.
Violent crime in Kansas City, Missouri is on the decline this year.
October 9 at the historic Gem Theatre, Jackson County honored the people behind the programs dynamically changing the community when County Executive Mike Sanders and Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker presented the first-ever COMBAT Awards.
In announcing that Kansas City Police Chief Darryl Forté would be receiving the Albert Riederer Award For Public Service, Peters Baker noted that Kansas City, Missouri was on pace to conclude 2014 with its fewest number of homicides in a half century.
"That's a fact worthy of applause," she declared.
COMBAT's success, County Executive Sanders stressed, hinges on "bringing people together not normally brought together" — people who include law enforcement officials and treatment professionals. That approach is now being emulated around the globe.
During Sanders' first year as County Prosecutor in 2001, European officials visited Jackson County specifically to learn about COMBAT so that they could develop similar programs in their home countries.
"They could have gone to any community in the world to see what was being done about drug abuse, drug crime, drug reduction," Sanders recalled. "They chose Jackson County, Missouri.
"COMBAT is an amazing program that has been paying dividends for generations."
New Beginnings Award
Sanders presented the New Beginnings Award, which epitomizes COMBAT's focus on not just improving the community as a whole, but also aiding individuals in turning their lives around.
Amber Ozga was born into a family plagued by addiction for generations. As an adolescent, she began smoking meth with her parents. Her own addiction led to dropping out of school, being pregnant at 16 and then being in prison in her early 20s.
Ozga credits the COMBAT-supported transitional-living program at Sheffield Place "with giving me my life back." She has transited to her own apartment, been employed full time nearly a year and has established loving relationships with her children.
"Sheffield cares," Ozga stated in a video played during the awards ceremony. "A lot of us, when we are out there, are like 'nobody cares.' We aren't used to people caring. Everything they do at Sheffield is out of caring. They teach you to be an adult. They show you how to get your life back."
Community Caregiver Awards
The Community Caregiver Awards were given to Dr. Aida Parra de Young of the Mattie Rhodes Center and to the Kansas City Chapter of Mothers in Charge.
Parra de Young teaches parenting classes and counsels domestic violence survivors. Mothers In Charge is an anti-violence organization founded in Philadelphia, and many of its members are mothers who've lost a child to violence.
"No one can imagine the grief of losing a child to aimless violence. You have to experience it," said Peters Baker. "These ladies can tell you the grief can consume a mother and a father. Instead of succumbing to that grief and sense of powerlessness, these ladies have become one of our community's most powerful voices against violence."
Peters Baker noted that at meetings arranged through Kansas City's No Violence Alliance (KC NoVA), the Mothers In Charge speakers have shared their stories with those who have committed violent acts. The impact is obvious: "Those who have engaged in violence will be weeping with these mothers."
Influential Youth Award
"This young man is changing lives," Sanders said when presenting Marquon Goldsby the Influential Youth Award.
Goldsby has repeatedly demonstrated outstanding leadership qualities and strong moral character throughout his involvement with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Kansas City. He has dedicated more than 500 hours of service to the clubs, working along staff and mentoring fellow club members. He has served as a Club Mayor and President of the Keystone Club. He tutors students in the Upper Room reading enrichment program for underprivileged youth, and also is a peer leader for the African American Male Teen Summit, which promotes productive lifestyles, developing a career path and setting goals.
"It is important that COMBAT emphasizes and demonstrates to our young people that violence and drugs are not the answer — that there are alternatives to drugs, anger and violent behaviors," Sanders said. "The recipient of this award needs to provide a positive role model, and he certainly is."
Step Up Award
COMBAT has developed an Anti-Violence Special Initiative (AVSI) to fund 16 agencies on the front line in striving to reduce violent crime in our community. A focal point of that effort has been the "Step Up, Speak Up" campaign, which urges citizens to report violent crimes.
The first Step Up Award was presented to three individuals with the Center For Conflict Resolution, an AVSI participant: Executive Director Annette Lantz-Simmons and two trained mediators, Judy Heath and Mikhala Lantz-Simmons.
They all worked with students at Southwest and Central High Schools who were referred for fighting or making threats.
Prior to participating in the program, one young woman had an attitude that "if someone messes with me, they are going to get beat." Now she says, "I've learned that I can use my words instead of my fists to solve problems."
Albert Riederer Award For Public Service
Peters Baker credited Chief Forté for the "amazing shift" in the Kansas City Police Department from being a law enforcement agency that previously only responded to crime into one that now actively seeks to prevent crimes.
"From the moment he stepped into the post as Kansas City’s top cop, he made it clear that policing in the same way is only going to get very similar results," Peters Baker said. "He knew that we needed to do better, especially reducing violence."
When accepting the award, Forté emphasized that no police department on its own can reduce crime and violence.
"The [crime] numbers are lower, but it's not just about law enforcement's effort," he said. "It takes an entire community's effort. We can't do it by ourselves. We need your help."