This is an eight-part comprehensive history of the COMBAT program, dating back to before COMBAT got its name—back to the late 1980s when the Jackson County Legislature declared a “violent health epidemic” because of illicit drug abuse and drug-related crime. And Jackson County voters decided to do something about it.
Since the implementation of what would become the COMmunity Backed Anti-crime Tax in April of 1990, COMBAT has become an essential source of funding for local law enforcement, the Jackson County Prosecutor’s Office, the courts and the county’s Corrections Department. But COMBAT has also supported non-profits operating vital prevention and treatment programs that provide services to tens of thousands of men, women and children in Jackson County each year.
COMBAT led to the creation of Jackson County’s Drug Court, so those with substance abuse disorders could, rather than be incarcerated, receive treatment and begin their lives anew in recovery. COMBAT’s more recent history includes implementing Caring For Crime Survivors and Project RISE, which focuses on treating all the wounds a gunshot can inflict, both physical and psychological. The Striving To Reduce Violence In Neighborhoods (STRiVIN’) initiative was started in 2015 as part of COMBAT’s expanded mission to reduce violence, whether drug-related or not, with the goal to make every neighborhood a safe place to call home.
The voters made Jackson County the first jurisdiction in the United States with a tax dedicated to addressing drugs and violence through a holistic approach of prevention, treatment and enforcement. Locally, COMBAT dramatically changed paradigm regarding the “War of Drugs,” from doing more than just fighting drugs and crime but also helping people.
With new challenges and threats, such as increases in crime globally in the wake of the COVID 19 pandemic and in overdose deaths arising from fentanyl-laced drugs, it is crucial to learn history’s lessons as COMBAT looks to continuing do all possible be make Jackson County safer in the future.
The First In The Nation
With the historic passage of the county-wide anti-drug tax November 7, 1989, Jackson County becomes the first jurisdiction in the United States to adopt a tax dedicated to confronting the drug and crime crisis holistically—a crisis needing to be addressed through increased prevention and treatment, not just enforcement.
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Getting Started: The Beginning Of DART & Drug Court
Within 2½ years of Jackson County’s Anti-Drug Tax being activated, 3,000 people who otherwise would have likely not gotten help receive drug abuse treatment. Overall, though, the county’s fledgling anti-drug program experiences growing pains. While the tax pumps more resources into law enforcement, calls for more prevention and treatment programs grow louder.
COMBAT Becmes COMBAT & Drug Court's In Session
1993 will be a pivotal year as COMBAT becomes COMBAT, and the Jackson County Drug Court convenes for the first time. New Jackson County Prosecutor Claire McCaskill places an emphasis on better communicating the successes of the anti-drug tax, starting with the May 1993 unveiling of a more impactful acronym. Meanwhile, five months later, six individuals appear before Judge Donald L. Mason for the first-ever session of the Jackson County Drug Court.
71% Support Extending Tax
The Kansas City Star editorial board expresses concerns about a proposed 1995 ballot measure calling for the extension of the Jackson County anti-drug tax. Rushing a renewal vote on the tax, which isn’t set to expire until 1997, might “endanger” what The Star calls the COMBAT-supported “prevention, treatment and enforcement programs that are saving lives—and lowering crime.”
The Nation Takes Notice
Voters Extend Tax Twice & Expand COMBAT’s Mission
During the first decade of the new century, Jackson Countians twice vote to extend the anti-drug tax. In the second of these two special elections, held just weeks before the 20-aughts draw to a close—they also approve expanding COMBAT’s mission. They decide to apply COMBAT’s holistic approach to drug abuse and drug-relate crime to reducing all violence in the county.
Addressing All The Damage A Gunshot Can Cause
(Also A New Election, A New Direction & A New COMBAT Director)
As the sometimes turbulent 20-teens draw to a close, COMBAT and the Jackson County Prosecutor’s Office—along with their community partners—will implement two innovative programs dedicated to repairing all the damage a gunshot might cause. Neither program would be possible without the community’s ongoing support for the anti-crime tax. Caring For Crime Survivors does all possible to help victims recover so that they can become true survivors, while Project RISE concentrates all the wounds a bullet can inflict through applying “Psychological First Aid” and long-term counseling.
‘All Hands In’ As COMBAT Strives For A Bright Future
Today, COMBAT’s focus is on lifting up people. Addressing the crises in their individual lives can have a dramatic impact on improving the entire community’s quality of life—and public safety. COMBAT’s logo is now a call for “All Hands In.” The threatening fist has been replaced with four helping hands, representing Community, Prevention, Treatment and Justice—each coming together in a unified effort to identify problems and seek solutions. COMBAT remains an essential source of funding for the courts, local police, the Jackson County Drug Task Force and Jackson County Prosecutor’s Office. But COMBAT’s ongoing support for the community, through funding Prevention and Treatment initiatives, is even more crucial in 2023 and beyond.