The Kansas City Gun Experiment Analysis

Kansas City Gun Experiment, and further reading on the subject a developed essay answering many questions can be developed. “The Kansas City Gun Experiment in 1992-1993 used intensive police patrols directed to an 80-block hotspot area where the homicide rate was 20 times the national average. It represented a unique approach to crime prevention through preventive patrol.” The following statement by one expert demonstrates the broad idea of the experiment as both effective and ineffective, lending to the idea of the need for further analysis.

There is some evidence that aggressive law enforcement can reduce gun-related crime, at least in certain areas and for certain periods of time. Beginning in July 1992, Kansas City led a 29-week experimental crackdown on gun violence. Police intensively patrolled high-crime areas and seized illegally carried guns through plain-view sightings, frisks, and traffic stops. An evaluation of the crackdown indicated a drop in gun crime within the target area, while such crimes did not decrease in a similar non-target area. (Brezina & Wright, 2000, p. 82)

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Within this analysis the essay question to be answered will precede the essay, and the above quotation will be fully discussed as the questions are answered, namely that gun crime dropped in one are but not in the control area.

1. Is this approach different from traditional patrol? If so how? If not, how is it similar? What did patrol officers in this experiment do that was different from what basic patrol officers do? What was the relationship between the officers in this experiment and other patrol officers?

The Kansas City Gun Experiment is different from traditional police patrol in that it demonstrates the utilization of both police experience with increased violent incidence in a certain area and the application of crime statistics to focus intensely on a problem area, where traditional patrol generally demonstrates the utilization of rather random coverage, attempting to be blanket coverage, where law enforcement in the patrol field are required to respond to suspicious behavior as well as calls for assistance by formal means continuously as they work. In other words, officers on patrol are generally responsible for intense levels of multitasking and prioritizing that can potentially cause them to miss important issues and/or problems in one situation, while attempting to respond to a more pressing problem associated with the area of their geographic patrol. While in the KCGE officers had a particular emphasis, unencumbered by call time, which was to reduce the number of guns on the street, potentially resulting in long-term reduction in gun related crime.

The concept of prevention would also seem to be greater in the KCGE as officers on patrol were not responding to as many acts of crime in progress or having just been committed but were rather focusing on the preventative reduction of guns on the street. Patrol officers and those on intensive patrols were in communication, and some sense of referral was associated with the intensive service, though the patrol not answering calls (the intensive patrol officers) were accountable to supervisory approval for activities involving seizure of guns. Though the intensive patrol officers were not required to answer calls the communication between those on standard patrol and intensive patrol was still in place creating the ability of the standard patrol officer (answering calls) to refer information to those on intensive patrol and vice versa, so standard patrol officers, when available could assist with seizures and arrests.

2. This experiment was a one-time special project. Could this approach be integrated into a police department on a permanent basis? What problems would you anticipate? How could those problems be overcome through careful planning and administration?

There are many examples of this type of one time special project being implemented as a permanent function of the police force, these include such programs and “drug free” zones where specified officers are relegated to both street and car patrol during specific times to respond only to violations of the set of laws regarding the “drug free zone,” which in most communities is a zone that rotates through troubled areas of the local community on an annual or semi-annual basis. Other “crack down” patrols such as when a certain geographic area is reporting a significant increase in vagrancy and crime are also a tactic of many evolving police forces and they are often in response to specific public concern issues, such as prostitution, drug street crime, vagrancy, abusive or aggressive panhandling ect. Careful planning and administration are essential to make such operations safe and effective, as civil rights must be adhered to and the public must feel protected rather than harassed, see question 4. Additionally, a system like this must be roving and flexible to some degree so crime displacement is less likely to occur. On the issue of gun control, the major trend seems to be more associated with the sweeping legislative and legal implementation of gun control laws and special prosecution issues, rather than gun seizure, which seems to be relegated as usual to one of a spider web of responsibility issues with regard to traditional patrol job description, with many agencies preferring to produce very well rounded patrol officers, with the skills to multitask and prioritize the crimes of the region.

3. Could the tactics used in Kansas City work in the environment of today? Are there any police strategies in use today that uses the tactics, either in total or in part that were used in Kansas City? Could they be successful? Define success as you envision it.

The ability of an individual force to implement such a system on a permanent basis is possible in today’s environment and might even be essential as technology changes the face of crime, requiring specialized teams in special operations to conduct sting operations and the like, for gun control and other issues. This is only true though if careful consideration is taken to make sure that other issues are not neglected and that such a system is roving (such as the drug free zones) so crime displacement is less likely to occur. Planning to make sure that individual officers are rotated through such interests, as specialized preventative plans is also import to ensure that the sub-systemization of the force does not separate individuals by making them ineffective in one or another area. Another issue that needs some attention in this case is that law enforcement and political entities which make demands on them need to be cautious to evaluate real problems, versus perceived problems, i.e. If gun violence is not the most pressing issue with regard to the need to allocate limited resources then it should not be where the resources go, despite public demand. The policing of a city region or nation, cannot and should not be driven entirely by politics and/or public demand. Real statistical analysis and real experience based understanding of the particulars of crime in any given area must be undertaken to determine the allocation of resources and if this issue is different than the particular “hot button” topic of the day it should be well noted by agency heads and politicians alike, tactfully of coarse.

Success would be defined as a reduction of specific and overall crime problems in the given geographical area and potentially in a broader area, especially if operations are roving and/or the tools used by traditional patrol divisions are shared with those on special patrol and vice-versa. Though the KCGE resulted in a reduction in gun crime in the specific target area it did not seem to deter crime in other areas, though it did not seem to result in redistribution of crime either. Creating a cooperative system with media would also benefit the situation, not in that all information should be shared and used as a tool to heighten the dramatic of the situation, but that people should be aware of the special circumstances and therefore the specific intent of the special operations, so they will more likely appreciate rather than be frightened by the potential of the situation. Though the system must be careful as the tendency of criminals to simply leave there guns at home would have increased, and seizures would have been reduced, some indication of this is present in the second implementation of the program in the KCGE as the extreme numbers of seizures and reduction in gun crime reports was not seen so readily in the second implementation as it was in the first. Some would argue that though the guns where still there, they were not on the streets and therefore it was a significantly safe place at least for a time.

Challenges are many but one of the most important marks of success would be real results in a reduction in crime, both statistically, through arrest and conviction statistics and through results such as overall reduction in reported crime fear. Though this may seem contradictory to the issue of the public and politics driving the emphasis of allocation, it is still important that communications between law enforcement agencies, the public and even political figures be open and honest with regard to real crime and real crime threat, as resources are limited and needs are many.

4. Do some police departments still engage in the “aggressive preventative patrol” strategies that led to the urban riots of the 1960s and the publishing of the 1968 Kerner Commission Report? Are there any similarities or differences between those strategies and the strategies used in the Kansas City Gun Experiment?

One could argue that on other issues, any sting operation, such as those conducted on specified geographic locations for street prostitution or drug enforcement or even electronic crime stings is a model similar to this, as the officers are focusing specifically on one issue and are not required, during operations to answer traditional patrol calls. Though, this model is more a future deterrent model than a prevention model. Riots occur as a result of whole groups of individuals feeling particularly targeted, rather than protected by police. Harassment is a highly interpretive concept and issues such as, racial profiling or random traffic blockades may make many feel harassed rather than protected. The differences between those strategies which resulted in the 1960s urban riots and those implemented by the Kansa City Gun Experiment are the careful attention to supervisory permission for issues regarding seizure and other potential civil rights violations and also the much more progressed sense of the rights of the criminal, in any given situation.

Newark’s rebellion in the summer of 1967 had been anticipated for years, ever since rioting began in cities like Rochester and Cleveland. The governmental response in Newark was intense. Armed state and local police and the national guard were brought in. Heavy war machinery including armored tanks and even army helicopters were deployed. The resultant battle was a brutal one and served to intensify emergent black power and separatism. (Conforti, 1973, p. 74)

The emphasis on community policing has also curtailed the riot effects of the 1960s policing as it was learned from the Kerner Commission that those areas where police and national guardsmen developed a rapport with the people were the least likely to escalate into serious violence and therefore officers in non-riot situations performing aggressive preventative patrols are more likely to ask questions and interact with the community, performing helpful service publicly, rather than firing warning shots into the air, while a potential sniper is in the midst, a situation documented in the Kerner report that created an escalation of violence rather than prevention. Though these systems are in place, they are not perfect and the occurrence of violence and rioting is still occasioned, as can be seen very recently in Los Angeles and Seattle, and often times the social, economic and political issues that drive the riots to fruition have little if anything to do with the police force and its action or inaction, though excessive force rejection riots, such as the Los Angeles Riot over the Rodney King incident is a good example of how technology has changed policing and how easily one or a few individual officers can begin to engage in violations of the law through an abuse of power that create dangerous social situations with potentially explosive results, i.e. The officers where videotaped engaging in abusive behavior that was undeniable. The real rioting occurred only after the channels of the official legal response to the incident failed to satisfactorily sanction the officers involved.

The whole of the system in Los Angels and all over the nation is in a period of transition that involves extreme care and caution with regard to such issues as the excessive use of force, and issue that needs to be under constant scrutiny from everyone involved and is being answered by implementation of such systems as the Miami-Dade Identification System, where cumulative information on individual officers is kept current with regard to use of force incidences and other misconduct and in reversal commendations and is used to determine a great many things about the present and future position of individual officers. Change is clearly in order, but the mob mentality and riots will likely occur indefinitely, especially within the situations of economic unrest that frequently plague whole geographic areas, communities and even whole races of people.

5. How has policing changed since the 1960s? What strategies, tactics or philosophies in use today can be said to be the same? What can be said to be different? What should police do today to reduce the potential for urban riots occurring again.

If a riot is expected non-lethal methods are more likely to be used, and only when absolutely necessary.

When such situations are heightened, and riot potential is projected, especially at preplanned events such as protests and parades riot patrols tend to look more like protectors of the rights of the protestors, standing idly aside rather than the full bore riot line seen only in extreme situations. Civil rights laws and the implementations of such laws have become an essential and pervasive aspect of policing in the modern era and there is little doubt that these changes have seriously affected the potential for riot behavior and other blanket crime behavior in the U.S. Though rioting clearly occurs on a semi-regular basis in the United States, as does public protest the results are usually a quickly contained situation of limited geographic area. Civil rights have changed the face of the police response to potentially escalating situations as agencies are more aware than ever before of the rights of criminal and/or suspected criminals as well as victims and the public to be treated in a certain manner. Additionally, law enforcement has learned the hard way that each individual wearing or using a badge to do their job is ultimately a representative of the whole of the agency and/or authority of the people. With this knowledge law enforcement has altered the manner in which it conducts business, and represents itself in word and action in almost every situation. This can be seen over and over again, even in the dramatic re-representations of law enforcement activities, such as late night programs that replay police tape footage at traffic stops, when professional officers respond calmly and respectfully even in the face of the most abusive and angry offenders.

Police agencies must continue to work in a multi-agency manner to create systems and subsystems, beyond simply the maintenance and training of a full riot detail by helping the community create a full response system of prevention. This should include an education aspect where young people are aware of the historical destruction that has occurred through rioting in the past as well as state and local regulations regarding legal forms of protest. Legal forms of protest and even parades, in most cities require prior-authorization by several entities, and the police knowing of such events is crucial, as is the knowledge of every law enforcement official from the street beat cop to the riot detail being aware of the rights and unlawful behaviors of the protesters. The communication between agencies is growing as city and local officials become more and more aware of the need to address certain situations on a cooperative level. This is a trend that will likely continue to decrease the potential for rioting in the future. Additionally, law enforcement agencies and other interested parties must continue to be diligent in training with regard to sensitivity and also with regard to good solid community policing policies and procedures. The police must also better learn to balance the release of information to the public, and the media through careful consideration of the needs of the public. Creating a dramatic news program is secondary to making sure that people are not seeded with a sense of overall fear with regard to situations. Mitigation, will also prove to be an even greater tool in law enforcement than it has ever been as more and more agencies require it to evaluate past performance in situations or riot and unrest, as well as in situations where police misconduct is reported or even rumored.


Brezina, T., & Wright, J.D. (2000). Going Armed in the School Zone. Forum for Applied Research and Public Policy, 15(4), 82.

Conforti, J.M. (1973). Newark: Ghetto or City?. In Ghetto Revolts, Rossi, P.H. (Ed.) (pp. 59-86). New Brunswick, NJ E.P. Dutton.

Louden, R.J. (2005). Policing Post-9/11. Fordham Urban Law Journal, 32(4), 757.

Schwabe, W., Davis, L.M., & Jackson, B.A. (2001). Challenges and Choices for Crime-Fighting Technology: Federal Support of State and Local Law Enforcement. Santa Monica, CA: Rand.

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