Douglas County’s top prosecutor is looking to take from the illicit haves and give back to their victimized have-nots.
Charles Branson, the county’s district attorney, is working on plans to establish a Property Crimes Compensation Board, an operation that would be financed by people who pay to receive diversions instead of jail time.
The targeted money — some of the nearly $100,000 in diversion payments and related fees made each year — would be used to reimburse victims of property crimes, such as vandalism and theft, Branson said. If someone had a car window smashed and CDs or tools stolen, the fund might be able to help the victim pay all or part of an insurance deductible to get the car back in comfortable working order.
“Our system does a fair job of trying to hold people accountable, but it does a very poor job of trying to restore a crime victim back to where they were at,” Branson said. “So this just is something that we can try to put together that allows us to help try to make crime victims whole.”
The compensation board wouldn’t be the first new service established in Branson’s office.
While the concept behind a Property Crime Compensation Board is rooted in state law, Branson acknowledged that few communities had agreed to create one. Such a program exists in Saline County, he said, but others have been slow to follow.
“There’s very few places that really want to take on another task,” he said.
State law mandates that such a program include:
• An appointed, three-member board to oversee the effort’s operations.
• Payment caps of either $500 (for crimes that result in a felony charge) or $250 (for crimes that result in a misdemeanor or traffic charge).
Branson isn’t certain when he’ll take the concept to Douglas County commissioners for consideration, and he acknowledges that it might be difficult to start a program — especially one that requires financial resources — during tight budget times.
“So far, everybody I’ve talked to about it has been pretty excited about doing it,” he said.
Victims of crimes against people already have a process for receiving some financial assistance, through the Crime Victims Compensation Board overseen by the Kansas Attorney General’s Office. But responsibility for dealing with financial loss regarding property crimes — theft, vandalism, criminal damage and the like — remains a local issue, one Branson sees as needing a governmental boost.
“Generally, we’re going to ask for restitution from any defendant that’s committed a crime that’s caused somebody financial issues,” Branson said. “A lot of times, though, those things can’t be paid — because they’re in jail, they have no job, that type of stuff. They have no financial wherewithal to be able to make any type of restitution payments.
“So in those types of cases, then, our fund would be able to kick in and try to help cover some of those things.”