The Downtown Council is working to install more social "software" to complement the hard investment being made in the new arena, entertainment district and residential projects.
Four years ago, the property and business group started the Downtown Community Improvement District, an additional layer of privately funded services to make the area cleaner and safer. It's up for renewal and many people think it has been as much help reviving downtown as the major construction projects.
Now, the group is working closely with the Municipal Court to establish what is referred to as a community court. The concept got started in New York City in 1993 as a way to more compassionately and effectively deal with petty street crime and associated public safety issues.
It's intended to intervene in the futile cycle of having police pick up the same individuals repeatedly for misdemeanor crimes such as public intoxication and harassment, and then haul them to court where they'll perhaps serve a few days in jail before being released back to the street.
The community court approach identifies those individuals when they enter the criminal justice system. Rather than sending them off to jail, a case worker or similar professional shifts them to alternative programs such as drug and alcohol treatment or community service.
Say you're a chronic graffiti tagger. Rather than go to jail, a community court would return you to the neighborhood you trashed and require 40 hours of cleanup work.
"You don't solve crime, you come up with a better way to manage it and address quality of life issues," said Bill Dietrich, the president and CEO of the Downtown Council.
Sean O'Byrne, vice president of the council, said many people responsible for petty crime downtown often suffer from mental illness or addictions.
"The majority of individuals … end up anonymous on downtown streets, and downtown properties suffer as a result," he said. "This gives us a better tool to address the problem."
The community court approach also might help police do a better job keeping watch downtown and elsewhere.
Last December, Kansas City Police Chief Jim Corwin observed that homeless people contributed to downtown's image problem, and that, he said, was not necessarily a police issue.
"Am I supposed to arrest dirty people?" he asked at the time. "The homeless issue is a major downtown, urban problem. Cities that are successful have to take care of it holistically."
Corwin reaffirmed that idea last month when he decided not to enforce a new aggressive panhandling law approved by the Kansas City Council.
O'Byrne said a community court program would help police.
"They'll be able to spend less time booking people for the 20th time," he said. "We want them on the streets to protect people from more serious crimes. It's a time winner."
Dietrich and O'Byrne said Presiding Municipal Judge Elaine Franco is taking the lead on the issue. The judge could not be reached for comment, but last March she said a community court would work as well in Kansas City as other cities.
Franco supported a pilot community court program resolution being considered by the City Council.
"The consensus is that relatively low-level crimes that they are addressing in this resolution … should not be treated with a revolving-door concept approach," the judge said.
The council approved the resolution, but so far the program has not been implemented.