Exploding crime and homelessness has at least one Kansas City CEO eyeing a move to the suburbs – and issuing a cry for help – even as the Royals are reportedly open to a second downtown location for a new ballpark.
Greg Trees, chief executive officer of Dialectic Engineering, recently sent an ominous email to city and Chamber of Commerce officials telling of his employees’ repeated brushes with crime and his own wife’s need to carry a gun while walking the dog in the ostensibly fashionable Crossroads District downtown – largely as a result of homeless perpetrators.
“My employees” are why he sent the email, Trees told KCMO radio host Pete Mundo. “They’re looking at me as their leader to protect them and protect their property. I’ve been trying to get the city and the Chamber of Commerce to address the issue – just for them.”
Yet, he says, the city has been unmoved, and he couldn’t get a meeting with Chamber officials.
His message to them had read:
I write this email with hope and love for our city. If you have a business in downtown KC, you are aware of the problems we are having with crime and homelessness. Unfortunately, our news outlets and yes, even the Chamber, are playing ostrich as they stick their head in the sand. Just my own experiences running an office and living in the Crossroads District are shocking. In the last six months my employees have endured two car thefts, catalytic converters thefts, harassment from homeless, human feces, used syringes, and spent bullet shells. My neighbors have had employees robbed, spit on, and more injustices. My wife needs to carry a gun to walk our dogs at night, because homeless men follow her on our streets. It is even worse on the east side of the city.
If the Chamber really cared about our businesses and its employees, they would hold the Mayor and City Council accountable. Instead, they endorse ineffective five-year plans that you see attached to this email.
I am sorry to write you all, but Mr. Reardon keeps canceling my meetings with him. I applaud the Chamber’s work on EDI, but at this pace there will be no places of work to exercise any EDI initiatives. When my lease expires, I will be moving my company to Overland Park, so I can look a new grad’s parent in the eye and say, ‘Your child will be safe working at our company.’
There is not an employer downtown that can state that their employees are safe in the current environment. If you agree that we need to have a safe downtown to conduct business in, then reply to this email and ask the Chamber to make this a priority.
Chamber of Commerce weighs in
“I don’t really know for sure,” Trees told Mundo when asked why he couldn’t get more of a response from the Chamber. “I have my suspicions, that the Chamber is very lockstep with the mayor and what the mayor’s initiatives are – which obviously right now is not what the business owners’ initiatives are. Very clashing, I suppose.”
The Heartlander asked the Chamber what it thought of Trees’ email; if anyone else felt the same way; and what action might be taken to address the problem of homelessness and resulting crime.
President and CEO Joe Reardon responded in an email to The Heartlander that the Chamber had previously formed a special committee to look at what KC businesses could do about violent crime. The answer: jobs, which he said lowers recidivism rates. The chamber launched WORC – Workplace Opportunities for Returning Citizens – to employ those “trying to turn their lives around.”
Another Chamber joint committee with the Civic Council recommended, among other things, that use-of-force complaints against the police should be investigated outside of the KCPD, and memberships on the Board of Police Commissioners should be more diverse.
The committee also recommended dialogue between the police board and city, rather than litigation. However, the mayor has sued to overturn a law, and a voter-approved constitutional amendment, that sets a higher minimum level of KCPD funding than previously required.
Reardon says the Chamber succeeded in pushing for state legislation raising the salary cap for KCPD police officers, “as well as eliminating the age cap for chief of police.”
“We intend to keep working with the chief on matters of retention and recruitment of officers,” he wrote.
The Chamber also helped create a Public Safety Coalition of civic, business and faith-based organizations that had sought public input during the search for the current chief – and which has more recently held public listening sessions with the chief. Another is scheduled for 6-7:30 p.m. Nov. 28 at the Mid-Continent Public Library.
“In summary,” Reardon writes, “the KC Chamber believes a collaborative approach is the most effective way to accomplish big picture goals that benefit our region and the city, as well as addressing critical issues such as public safety. To this end, we continue to support the efforts of KC360 that is being led by KC Common Good who is working to unite the community to address the root causes of violence.
“Modeled off Omaha 360, KC360 takes a comprehensive, community-based approach to reduce gun violence and violent crime, build stronger community relations, increase access to education and jobs and implement responsible justice reforms.”
Reardon’s statement did not address Trees or his specific concerns, or what might be done about them.
Homelessness not illegal, but violating law is
For his part, Trees told Mundo he applauds the Chamber’s diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiative, “But that’s not the only thing that’s wrong with our city. I want to see the same amount of energy and focus from the Chamber of Commerce for us to be able to operate our businesses safely. …
“City businesses are sitting here drowning in crime and property damages – and, actually, fear.”
Trees said other business operators have quietly urged him on, but are afraid to speak out as he has, due to possible retribution. A number of them do business with the city, he said.
Still, one business owner in the Crossroads District confided to Trees having seen a homeless man running with a machete; people shooting up drugs her restroom; people getting shot with air guns while they’re putting away furniture at night; people getting mugged; cars being broken into; catalytic converters being stolen; and vehicles doing donuts in the intersection.
As for the city and Mayor Quinton Lucas’ office, Trees said, “They said they will meet with me, but I’ve met with them before. Meeting with me is not going to do any good. What we really need is for them to put together a program to deal with this, and tell all the business owners downtown, ‘Here’s what we’re going to do on this issue.’”
About the only thing the city told Trees, he said, was that homelessness is not illegal – which he completely agrees with, having served and helped the homeless himself.
“But it is illegal to defecate in public,” he says. “It is illegal to litter. It is illegal to spit on people. It is illegal to threaten people. There is an aggressive population in the homeless community that is doing this, and we just want them off our streets, so that way we can walk safely up and down them.”
While noting that by the time police can arrive a homeless offender has disappeared from a crime scene, Trees is sympathetic to the Kansas City Police Department’s conundrum – as the department has nearly 300 unfilled positions and a strained relationship with a mayor and council majority that tried to claw back $42 million in police funding a few years ago.
“I think they have their heart in the right place. The police department doesn’t have the resources they need to do what they need to do.”
Trees said he’d like to move his company to Overland Park – but that he has eight or nine years left on his lease in KC.
“Which means we have to live in this another five years? I don’t think that’s acceptable,” he told Mundo. “If I could move out tomorrow, I just would’ve left. I wouldn’t have bothered with the letter.”
But fleeing the city, even if understandable, is not a solution. As one former law enforcement officer told The Heartlander on condition of anonymity, “you can see what this will grow into” by looking at other U.S. cities where crime and homelessness have gotten out of control.
And if other, bigger businesses decide to relocate from Kansas City, the officer said, “Then are you going to say something? Then are you going to be concerned?”