For law enforcement agencies and the courts in Douglas County, 2012 could be called the “wait-and-see” year at this point.
With so many budgetary questions up in the air at the local and state levels, leaders are focusing on ways to operate more efficiently and still crack down on the area’s crime rate as well.
Here’s more about key issues law enforcement, public safety agencies and the courts will face in 2012:
Lawrence Police Department
• A firm studying the city’s police facilities will issue a report on its findings early this year, which will likely lead to further discussions at City Hall. Police Chief Tarik Khatib and other city leaders have said the department needs an upgrade, likely one that would place the patrol and investigations division under one roof.
• City commissioners as part of last year’s budget granted Khatib, who was promoted last February, a few more patrol positions, but he says the city needs to add more positions, mostly patrol officers and crime analysts, to help reduce Lawrence’s crime rate to put it more in line with cities like Lenexa and Overland Park.
• This year’s city budget discussion could include a conversation about calls officers respond to that typically aren’t criminal in nature, such as a potential dispute between neighbors that is not violent or a fender-bender in a parking lot. Khatib said residents generally expect police to respond to those, but they also can keep officers busy, especially if the department is short staffed.
“We’re good about solving the murders or major shootings, but there are some robberies, street robberies, home invasion robberies,” Khatib said, “those types of things, that if we were doing hot-spot policing, if we had more attention to the area where the lower-level crime is occurring, some of those bigger crimes might not occur because we’re there and actively intervening.”
Douglas County District Attorney’s Office
• District Attorney Charles Branson said county department leaders have already begun discussions with county administration about a potential 2 percent to 3 percent decrease in the county’s budget for 2013. Those conversations would take place as part of the budget process this summer.
“We’re starting to reach the point where the belt tightening can only go so far if the revenues don’t increase,” Branson said.
• Prosecutors also expect to hear this week whether they have been given grant funds again for a position to prosecute domestic violence cases. Branson said the grant money in 2011 made an impact because it allowed for a prosecutor and Lawrence police detective to focus exclusively on those types of cases.
Douglas County District Court
• Chief District Judge Robert Fairchild doesn’t anticipate the Legislature granting major funding increases to the court system this year. He doesn’t expect Douglas County to get another judge’s position, for one. But court officials will be watching closely recommendations a Blue Ribbon Commission will make to the Kansas Supreme Court this month, especially on how resources are allocated in courts across the state.
“The problem is I don’t see the end in sight for that right now,” Fairchild said. “We’re all hopeful that the process of evaluation would result in some things that alleviate these concerns, but I don’t know that we’re going to have a miracle solution very quickly.”
• Fairchild said Douglas County is focusing on applying for grants and will be participating in a pilot program that will allow parties to file cases electronically.
• The court is still adjusting after one year to the retirement of longtime Judge Jean Shepherd, who presided over family court and domestic cases. Three judges, Sally Pokorny, Kay Huff and Peggy Kittel, have been handling domestic and child-in-need-of-care cases. There are types of cases in these areas that seemed to be resolved before that have remained contested last year.
“We’re still trying to figure out what we need to do to try to improve things and to even things out a little bit,” Fairchild said.
Douglas County Sheriff’s Office
• Sheriff Ken McGovern said his office met its 2011 goal to add three full-time case managers to its jail re-entry program, which is aimed at saving the county money by keeping frequent inmates from further criminal trouble.
“We are already experiencing reduced jail populations as a direct result of their work,” McGovern said.
• This year the sheriff’s office is focusing on a long-term project that requires emergency response agencies to change their radio systems from analog to digital format. The office is also sorting through more than 60 years of criminal history records and storing them electronically.