Category Archives: Crime

Majority of Americans would decriminalize pot

Though there are libertarian arguments for decriminalizing marijuana, it’s unlikely that most Kansans would concur with the results of the startling new Gallup poll indicating that 58 percent of Americans now support legalization, a 10-percentage point jump in one year. Only 35 percent of Republicans favor legalization, while 67 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds do. The consequences of legalization don’t stop at a state’s border, though: In a talk in Lawrence on Tuesday, Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt said “we have seen a significant uptick” in people who have purchased medical marijuana in Colorado being caught driving through Kansas with the intention of reselling it farther east.

Security changes in Old Town welcome

The stepped-up security measures announced Monday by Wichita Police Chief Norman Williams should help reassure the public about the safety of Old Town in the wake of the Sept. 22 fatal shooting in the nightlife district. The smart moves include increasing police presence in key areas and time periods, better monitoring of security cameras, use of the police helicopter and steps to discourage motorists’ cruising. The patrol statistics over the most recent weekend, including arrests and liquor citations, also sent a welcome message. Now, more eyewitnesses of the shooting should come forward and assist the Police Department, so that the perpetrator can be caught and justice can be served.

Public concerned about Old Town safety

A SurveyUSA poll of Kansans sponsored by KWCH, Channel 12, underscored the importance of safeguarding not only Old Town-goers but also the nightlife district’s reputation in the wake of last weekend’s fatal shooting spree. When respondents were asked whether Old Town was safe, 37 percent said “somewhat,” 27 percent said “not very,” and 16 percent said “not at all,” while 55 percent said reports of violence there make them less likely to visit the neighborhood. Forty-two percent said police could be doing more to make it safe.

Stark difference in how races view Zimmerman case

It’s not news that many whites and African-Americans viewed the George Zimmerman trial and verdict differently, but a Washington Post/ABC News poll shows how stark that difference is. When asked about the jury’s verdict finding Zimmerman not guilty in Trayvon Martin’s death, 51 percent of whites surveyed said they approved compared with only 9 percent of African-Americans. And while whites were divided on whether the shooting was justified – 33 percent said “yes,” 33 percent “no” and 32 percent were not sure – African-Americans were not divided, with 87 percent saying it wasn’t justified. On the broader issue of whether African-Americans and other minorities receive treatment equal to whites in the criminal justice system, 54 percent of whites said “yes” while only 8 percent of African-Americans did.

No easy exit from sexual predator program

As a task force began drafting its recommendations last week on how to improve the sexual predator treatment program at Larned State Hospital, some striking numbers emerged: Of the more than 250 patients who have entered the program in the past 18 years, only four have been released. (At least 16 have died.) The Kansas Health Institute News Service also reported that each patient costs taxpayers about $87,000 a year. It’s been 16 years since the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the 1994 law allowing Kansas to keep some sexual predators behind bars even after they’ve completed their prison sentences. But if, as then-Attorney General Carla Stovall once said, “our goal is treatment so these people can have a productive life,” that doesn’t seem to be working very well.

New, better way to investigate officer-involved deaths

Local authorities have taken a good step in the wake of last week’s 32-hour standoff on South Seneca, which ended with the shooting death of suspect Jared Lee Woosypiti. The investigation of the standoff will be led by Reno County Sheriff Randy Henderson, in what he called a new regional “unified approach in working officer-involved shootings” with a goal of having “the highest level of integrity.” Wichita Police Chief Norman Williams, Sedgwick County Sheriff Jeff Easter and Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett have been involved in the new approach. It won’t answer all the concerns of those whose loved ones have died in officer-involved shootings, or address their call for a citizen board to review such cases. But having another jurisdiction lead the investigation introduces some independence and objectivity into the process.

Correction cuts have compromised public safety

A new risk-assessment tool may help Sedgwick County judges better determine whether an offender is likely to succeed at a community correction facility or should be sentenced to prison. But another key to reducing Sedgwick County’s probation-failure rate, which is significantly higher than the state average, is to make sure community correction programs are adequately funded. Pound-foolish budget cuts have reduced by half the number of beds at the county’s adult residential center, which means more higher-risk offenders are living in the community with less structure and supervision. That’s a recipe for recidivism. Gov. Sam Brownback recently signed a bill aimed at reducing the need for prison beds, which is projected to save the state $53million in the next five years. About $5million of those savings are supposed to be reinvested in community-based programs. Those programs need better support. As Mark Masterson, director of the county’s department of corrections, acknowledged: “To say that services have not been compromised – the truth is they have.”

Missing women are free now

The account of the three mission women being recued yesterday in Cleveland is incredible. Amanda Berry (right in photo), who was kidnapped 10 years ago, was able to scream for help, and a neighbor kicked in the door of the house where the women had been held captive. She then called 911, telling the dispatcher: “I’ve been kidnapped and I’ve been missing for 10 years and I’m, I’m here, I’m free now.” Police found the two other women in the house.  The owner of that house and his two brothers have been arrested.

State joins Wichita in cracking down on human trafficking

Law enforcement authorities in Wichita can take pride in having helped pass the state’s new anti-human trafficking law, which Gov. Sam Brownback signed Monday. Because of local officials’ good work investigating and prosecuting such cases in recent years, traffickers now will face tougher justice statewide, as vulnerable victims and survivors are handled with more care and compassion. “Kansas has made great strides forward in the fight against modern-day slavery with this new law,” said Brownback, who was a leader in the global fight during his time in the U.S. Senate. As the bill passed the Legislature unanimously, though, one concern got too little attention: its resulting costs to local governments. In February, Sedgwick County commissioners were told by county staff that such legislation would cost the county about $255,000 more a year.

Time no longer on a rapist’s side in Kansas

Good for the Legislature and Gov. Sam Brownback for taking steps to bring more rapists and child molesters to justice with House Bill 2252, which eliminates the statute of limitations on rape and aggravated sodomy and makes it easier for adults to report sex crimes that occurred when they were children. As Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt noted, successful prosecutions still will need good evidence. But because of technology and the new state law, time will no longer be on the side of a sex offender intent on escaping justice.

Impressive work on federal gun prosecutions

If there is anything that people of all political persuasions can agree on regarding guns, it may be that existing gun laws should be better enforced and felons with firearms should be prosecuted. So it’s impressive that only Puerto Rico and the Western District of Texas had more federal gun prosecutions in the fiscal year ending September 2012 than Kansas, where the office of U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom (in photo) filed gun-related charges against 447 people. Kansas also led the nation in such prosecutions in fiscal 2011. Grissom said he has told local agencies: “If they are felons and you can pull them over and they are armed, give them to us and we will cut them out of your community. You can have a huge impact on the crime rate.”

Kansans turn to guns after Newtown shooting

There were surges of gun purchases and concealed-carry permit applications in Kansas after the shootings at Newtown, Conn. In the 10 business days between Dec. 14 and the end of the year, 1,012 Kansans applied for gun permits, the Lawrence Journal-World reported. That 100-per-day average was about 50 percent higher than the 64-per-day application average since July. The number of background checks in Kansas also reached an all-time high of more than 35,000 in December. Nationally, background checks in December totaled nearly 2.8 million, compared with 1.6 million in October. Some of the surge may be Christmas buying, but gun dealers said that many buyers were concerned about new gun regulations.

Good trend on jail numbers continuing

At Wednesday’s Sedgwick County Commission meeting, County Manager William Buchanan summarized the many measures the county has taken to better manage the jail population and avoid another expansion of the facility, including what he rightly called the “amazing statistic” that 92 percent of those who graduated from drug court committed no new crimes in the six months afterward. The average daily jail population was 1,374 in November, down from 1,496 in November 2011 and 1,700 a few years ago. Buchanan had a valuable caution for the future, though. “We’re very concerned about the reduction in the state funds for the prevention programs,” he said, noting the county has seen those funds cut from more than $1 million a year to $200,000 last year. The state is “not paying attention to the front end of the system, and that’s going to catch up to us,” Buchanan said.

Are Americans more homicidal than everyone else?

“Compare the rate of murder by gun in the United States to the rate in any other advanced industrial nation, and you’re forced to draw one of two conclusions: Either there are far more homicidal people in this country than just about anyplace else on Earth, or far more guns,” columnist Harold Meyerson wrote. “We must either be home to more people who succumb to murderous rage or who kill out of the coldest of calculations, or it’s easier to pick up a gun and start shooting here than in any comparable country.” Meyerson noted that there are 3.2 gun homicides per 100,000 residents in the United States, while only 0.1 per 100,000 in France, Britain and Australia. “Want to argue that we have 32 times the rate of dangerous mental illness that they have in Australia?”

Mass killings remain relatively rare

Despite the impression given by the media, mass shootings are not more common now than they have been in past decades, John Fund wrote in National Review Online. “Incidents of mass murder in the U.S. declined from 42 in the 1990s to 26 in the first decade of this century,” Fund noted. “The chances of being killed in a mass shooting are about what they are for being struck by lightning.” Of course, the rarity of the killings is of no comfort to families in Newtown, Conn.

Would ban on assault weapons help prevent killings?

The National Rifle Association has argued that banning assault weapons is ineffective in curbing crime. However, Australia’s ban has significantly reduced murders and mass killings. Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times wrote: “In Australia in 1996, a mass killing of 35 people galvanized the nation’s conservative prime minister to ban certain rapid-fire long guns. The ‘national firearms agreement,’ as it was known, led to the buyback of 650,000 guns and to tighter rules for licensing and safe storage of those remaining in public hands.… In the 18 years before the law, Australia suffered 13 mass shootings – but not one in the 14 years after the law took full effect. The murder rate with firearms has dropped by more than 40 percent, according to data compiled by the Harvard Injury Control Research Center, and the suicide rate with firearms has dropped by more than half.”

Tear gas in Old Town targeted usual trouble spot

After all the measures by the Wichita Police Department and City Hall to address the shootings and other trouble in Old Town, including recent ordinance changes, it was discouraging to see things reach the point that police used tear gas to disperse a crowd. In another incident, a confrontation between a nightclub patron and a bouncer ended with the patron’s hospitalization for a broken nose and multiple lacerations. Four new surveillance cameras, paid for by business owners, should help police efforts in the nightlife district. But it’s important to note that Old Town’s problems continue to involve mostly the 200 block of North Mosley and the early morning hours when bars close – meaning the public safety problem, though serious, is also isolated.

Sex with a student is not a ‘relationship’

Last week offered two needed reminders that teachers who have sex with students don’t just exercise poor judgment, cross an ethical line and violate a public trust. They also break the law and risk jail time. The Kansas Court of Appeals upheld a state law that prohibits sexual contact between a teacher and an older teen student, noting “the disparity of power inherent in the teacher/student relationship” as it affirmed the conviction of former Wichita Northwest High School choir teacher Charles Edwards for having had sex with a then-18-year-old student. Also on Friday, Kurt M. Brundage, 33, got 32 months in prison after pleading guilty to two counts of taking indecent liberties with a child while he was an English teacher at Wichita East High School. His victim, who was a 15-year-old former East student at the time, said at Brundage’s sentencing hearing that she wished people wouldn’t use the word “relationship” when describing what happened in her case. That’s an excellent point. There are much better words for it, starting with “sex crime.”

Old Town working on its security

The absence of gunfire in Old Town has been a welcome change after four straight weekends of reports of shots fired. Police are treating the trouble with the seriousness it deserves and stepping up their presence in the nightlife district. Their attention is especially focused on the key hours of 12:30 to 2:30 a.m. on weekends, around the time the bars close, and in one block of North Mosley. Police, city officials and business owners will hold another meeting Friday to work toward a long-term plan for Old Town security. Deputy Police Chief Tom Stolz told The Eagle editorial board Thursday that changes in how police enforce the curfew, address loitering and handle traffic may be part of the strategy, along with some “tweaking” of ordinances. But he also stressed that “statistically, nothing has changed over the last two or three years in Old Town – it’s a safe area” – but that “we have some very specific times and geography to talk about.” A poll by SurveyUSA, sponsored by KWCH, Channel 12, showed why it’s important to be aggressive about the issue: 82 percent of those polled Tuesday said they’d heard of the string of shootings, and 62 percent said they’d be less likely to visit Old Town because of them. According to KAKE, Channel 10, the shootings also have inspired a tasteless T-shirt.

Should nation reinstate assault weapons ban?

Not surprisingly, the Colorado movie theater shooting has renewed debate about whether the public should be able to buy assault weapons. Mitt Romney is opposed to new gun laws, though he signed an assault weapons ban when he was governor of Massachusetts, describing such guns as “instruments of destruction.” He also wrongly said that the Colorado suspect possessed the guns illegally. The White House said that President Obama would not pursue new gun laws, though Obama called Wednesday for stepped-up background checks and restrictions to keep mentally ill people from buying weapons.

Another terrible shooting in Colorado

Details are still unfolding about the horrible shooting during a midnight showing of “The Dark Knight Rises” in Colorado. According to federal law enforcement officials, the suspected gunman is 24-year-old James Holmes, a former medical student. Twelve people died and an estimated 50 others were injured.

Kansas getting ‘smart on crime’ again

Gov. Sam Brownback recently signed legislation aimed at stemming growth in the prison population and reducing recidivism. The promising reform follows a “justice reinvestment” approach that brings together the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government to analyze data and “identify ways the state can reduce corrections spending and use some of the savings generated to invest in strategies that increase public safety,” according to a news release from the Kansas Department of Corrections. Kansas had been a national leader in recent years with “smart on crime” initiatives, but budget cuts have hampered those efforts. It’s good that the state is again recognizing that there can be smarter ways to deal with crime than just locking people up and throwing away the key.

Landwehr earned Wichita’s gratitude

Get ready for a Wichita Police Department without Lt. Ken Landwehr, who starts retirement this week after 35 years on the force. Landwehr, the homicide unit commander for an unheard-of 20 years, is best known for his terse public statements about the city’s worst crimes. But what really mattered to the community’s public safety were his skills as an investigator and leader of detectives. It was once as hard to imagine him retiring as it was to imagine BTK being caught. Having commanded the task force that took the serial killer off the streets in 2005, Landwehr has more than earned some rest and relaxation, as well as Wichita’s gratitude.

Crack down on human trafficking

Human trafficking cases have more than tripled in four years, with 28 cases last year, according to Wichita police statistics. That’s shocking and intolerable. The Legislature needs to heed prosecutors and victims’ advocates who appealed last week for tougher laws. Sedgwick County Deputy District Attorney Marc Bennett urged lawmakers to increase penalties on those who buy sex. Currently, men who pay 16- and 17-year-old girls for sex face only a Class C misdemeanor, which carries the same type of penalties as driving with a suspended license. As Bennett argued, “We need to do more to attack the guys who are the purchasers.”

A sad start to the new year

It’s sad that Wichita began the new year with two homicides early Sunday morning. But it is especially sad that, according to police, one of the victims was a Good Samaritan. Police said that Bradley J. Wellbrock saw a man and woman arguing and asked the man to ease off, before more than half a dozen of the man’s friends showed up and Wellbrock ended up being stabbed. What a waste.