TOPEKA (KSNT) – Members of a local organization are working to make their voices heard as they call for change after a recent uptick in violence in the capital.
The Topeka Justice Unity & Ministry Project, better known as JUMP, believes that in order for Topeka and Shawnee County to remain a safe place to live, city and county leaders must follow the strategy approved in 2018 and 2019.
Three years ago, Topeka JUMP and other community organizations unveiled a plan called “Group Violence Intervention,” or GVI. It is an evidence-based strategy designed to bring together police, respected community leaders and social services to prevent retaliatory violence.
Police have signed off on a plan to implement the plan, but in light of recent violence in Topeka and multiple police shootings, Topeka JUMP co-chair Anton Ahrens believes police have not followed up on their end of the deal.
“The question is what kind of city do we want to live in here in Topeka? Do we want a city that only responds to violence after it happens with police and other emergency personnel, or do we want a community that actually plans and tries to reduce violence,” he said Ahrens.
Topeka JUMP members, along with about a hundred community members, gathered at Fellowship Hi-Crest for a candlelight vigil. A peaceful walk followed to Southern Hills Mennonite Church where they held a prayer vigil.
“This event is a way we allow Topekans to get involved in their community and the issues that matter to them,” Ahrens said. “Certainly, I think these shootings were at least disturbing and at most frightening for many Topekan residents.”
While the number of recent shootings may seem alarming, Topeka Police Chief Bryan Wheeles said year-to-date violence has actually decreased in the city.
“We certainly know that at this time, shootings are down from last year’s record low,” Wheeles said. “Sometimes when you have a series of back-to-back events, you kind of think there’s more crime than there actually is. At this point, we’re still trending below last year’s record high of shootings.”
Wheeles approves of Topeka JUMP and their grassroots efforts to shine a light on issues in the community and wants people to know they can always talk to the group.
“I think it’s very important that we have organizations like JUMP,” Wheeles said. “I think it’s very important that we have differences of opinion on how to prevent things and how to attack things in our community, and we’re always willing to have those conversations as a police department. I think we took an oath to protect and to serve and that’s what we do.”
Wheeles adds only time will tell how many murders the city will see this year. Meanwhile, things are going in line with the overall low number.