Did delayed police response times fuel a mass shooting in Kansas City?

Did delayed police response times fuel a mass shooting in Kansas City?
Police Line / Police Tape

Kansas City Mayor Quentin Lewis has blamed a lack of local gun laws on the city’s crime spike, including a recent shooting at a nightclub that left three people dead and two others critically injured. Speaking to reporters last week, Lewis declared that “the community is awash in firearms and largely firearms that are in place where people either are drinking or looking at retaliation, are looking at any number of issues, and I think it is clear, not just from Kansas City, but if you talk to mayors, prosecutors and police officers in any major city in the country, these are ingredients that have led to more incidents like these.”

Based on new reporting from the Kansas City Star, however, it appears that the issue isn’t “too many guns” but “not enough police.” As the paper details, there were multiple calls made to 911 from the nightclub requesting a police response before the shooting took place, but officers never responded until shots were fired.

In the early morning hours of May 21, owner of Kansas City’s East Side Klymax Lounge Mario Williams called police to report a suspicious vehicle circling his nightclub.

He allegedly was told the phone line would be recorded as he waited for the dispatcher to pick up. In an eight second call, Williams said he reported that strange activity — then the call beeped multiple times before disconnecting.

Police records showed Williams waited about four seconds on the line before “abandoning” the call. Since Williams allegedly hung up the phone, per the department’s records, the call was neither reported to a dispatcher nor noted in the Kansas City police log system, according to Capt. Corey Carlisle, a spokesman for the department.

After the call, Williams said he went outside to check on his security guard, Jason McConnell.

Some men had congregated near the front entrance of the venue. He alleged they were waiting for someone attending a birthday party inside the lounge.

“Jason told me to get back inside and call again,” Williams said.

Records collected by the Star show Williams reported the men, who he believed to be armed, twice before officers said they responded. The first time was in the 1:04 a.m phone call in which Williams allegedly hung up. The second phone call, also at 1:04 a.m., was answered by a dispatcher in three seconds and led to an almost two minute conversation.

“I told the police the guys were here with guns and that our security guard was not going to be able to hold them back… I said we needed help,” Williams said.

Patrons were directed to steer clear of the front entrance and to leave the event from side doors as McConnell worked to keep the people waiting outside at bay, Williams said. But twenty minutes later, shots rang out and McConnell was injured. Officers later declared him one of three people who were killed at the scene that night. Two more people were critically injured.

According to the Star, Williams’ request for help was assigned as a Priority 4 call, meaning it did not present any “immediate danger to human life” despite the concern that the men were lying in wait for some of the patrons to exit the nightclub. Williams says that the 911 dispatcher told him that officers were “stretched thin”, and that no officer would be available to respond unless or until there was an “active emergency” like the shooting that took place 20 minutes after Williams spoke with the dispatcher.

Kansas City police told the Star they responded to a shooting call at 1:25 a.m. and arrived at the lounge one minute later. But Williams alleged they arrived around 1:55 a.m. In an emailed statement, Becchina called the allegation “not accurate.”

Williams also said people fleeing the club were “ready to riot” over the delayed response.

“If the people looking to cause trouble see police… they’re running,” Williams said.

“These guys were able to have at least twenty minutes outside my establishment with guns hanging out of their pocket,” he said.

Records provided by Williams and police showed the club owner called officers at least five times that night.

After the calls at 1:04 a.m., Williams made two more calls — at 1:26 a.m. and 1:27 a.m. respectively — which were “abandoned.” The first call disconnected after 29 seconds and the second after 53 seconds of waiting to speak to a dispatcher.

Williams alleged each of the calls were disconnected.

“There were bodies all around me,” he said of the time.

About 11 other calls from the lounge were waiting to speak to a dispatcher during the same time frame, according to Capt. Corey Carlisle, a spokesman for the Kansas City police. These calls, he said, prompted the initial dispatched shooting call.

Williams’ final call at 1:29 a.m. was picked up by a dispatcher after over four minutes of waiting in a queue.

At that time, police were already on the scene, Carlisle said.

Williams said when he spoke to a dispatcher, which police records showed lasted 15 seconds, he told them people had already been shot. The dispatcher allegedly responded that police were on the way.

“People are walking around saying this shooting happened inside our club and that nothing could have been done to stop it. But we called police to say they were going to be shooting. They just didn’t show up in time,” Williams said. “I did the best I could.”

As of last month, the Kansas City Police Department was understaffed by nearly 300 officers. The city has long had an officer shortfall, but it’s been getting worse over the last few years. The department is actually down by almost 20% just in the past three years, and it’s insane to think that shortage isn’t having an impact on both police response times and things like the city’s homicide clearance rate, which stands at just 33%.

According to the mayor the answer is to allow Kansas City to impose municipal (and misdemeanor) gun control ordinances that will be enforced by an ever smaller number of cops on the street. Seems to me a better approach would be to ensure that there are enough officers on patrol that calls like Williams’ can be addressed right away, instead of being forced to wait until shots are fired before officers are dispatched to the scene of the crime. Of course, if Mayor Lewis made that his number one priority he couldn’t scapegoat lawful gun owners or the Second Amendment for his city’s crime woes, so instead city officials will continue to make excuses for their failures and point the finger at a supposed lack of gun laws; ignoring the manpower shortage that’s preventing police from possibly stopping these shootings before they take place.