Topeka’s crime: A better tomorrow

TOPEKA, Kan. (KSNT) - The Hi-Crest community in Topeka is no stranger to violence.

A KSNT News investigation found there have been 151 violent crimes in the Hi-Crest neighborhood in the last five years.

While the statistics are overwhelming, community leaders said Topeka's crime stigma can't be blamed on Hi-Crest alone.

Jessica Thompson has lived in Hi-Crest for the last four years.

"Hi-Crest is just like a lot of places in Topeka, we have drugs, we have violence, we have gun shots, we have just crime, period," said Thompson.

During her time in Hi-Crest, gunshots have not been uncommon. Gangs and drugs exist.

In 2015, the community was shaken when a gunman killed a 5-year-old girl, Lily Coats-Nichols.

"Lily was a little girl who had her whole life ahead of her and she's not the only one who had that stolen," said Carmen Anello, Lily's Aunt.

Coats-Nichols was riding in the backseat of her mother's car when she was hit by a bullet intended for someone else.

"We've had this just growing tragic violence happening within our city and it's affecting a lot of families, it's not just affecting ours," said Anello.

While many in Topeka assume its Hi-Crest that's at the center of the city's crime problem, our investigation shows that's not the case.

"I don't feel like people should just point their fingers at us, because we do have a lot of crime, but it's everywhere," said Thompson.

Police said it's perception that's preventing the problem from going away and breaking down stigmas in our community is the solution.

"It's very important that those stigmas, we try to work on breaking those down because if you don't go to a community, you really don't know what that community is like," said Chief Cochran.

Hot spots for crime

City maps show the four parts of town that are the most crime-ridden: Hi-Crest, North, Central and East Topeka.

Those same four parts of town are also highlighted in the poverty and neighborhood health map.

Shawnee County District Attorney Mike Kagay said the first step is for everyone who lives in Topeka to accept there's a crime problem.

"It's easy to bury your head in the sand. It's easy to turn away and say that's not my problem. Sure, I understand that, it's scary to confront hard truths. It's frightening to acknowledge that these things are happening in your community, but it's going to take that and it's going to take ownership from every segment of our community," said Kagay.

Getting involved

In 2012 the Topeka Public School's Police Department moved into the heart of Hi-Crest.

The Topeka Rescue Mission's NET Reach program followed one year later, giving people support like never before.

The program matched mentors from all parts of Topeka with people living in Hi-Crest.

"It was just kind of a holistic approach to helping the neighborhood," said Ron Brown, Director of Safety for Topeka Public Schools. "To not give a hand out, but a hand up and by doing so, they became better trusted, people became more invested in their neighborhood."

Officials said we need more outreach programs in parts of North, Central and East Topeka to get neighbors invested in fighting crime.

"No law enforcement agency can do the work by themselves, our job is much easier if we have the trust and collaboration of the community we serve," said Shawnee County Sheriff Herman Jones.

A success story

Police said they are seeing results in Hi-Crest, neighbors are taking back their neighborhood and people are coming together.

Thompson said because of efforts like that, she remains hopeful for a better future for her neighborhood and Topeka as a whole.

"My kids to be able to grow up and live somewhere safe and feel comfortable," said Thompson.

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