Archive for Sunday, June 30, 2013

North Lawrence residents, disappointed with local response to theft problem, to seek answers from legislators

June 30, 2013


Douglas County District Attorney Charles Branson

Douglas County District Attorney Charles Branson

Related document

Kansas Sentencing Guidelines ( .PDF )

The Lawrence Police Department's online crime mapping system, which is open to the public, shows the distribution of theft reports in Lawrence from 2010 to the present.

The Lawrence Police Department's online crime mapping system, which is open to the public, shows the distribution of theft reports in Lawrence from 2010 to the present.

North Lawrence wants answers from the criminal justice system.

Police, prosecutors, and lawmakers are hearing from residents there who say they are sick and tired of living with people they call career criminals who are responsible for an ongoing problem of thefts in the neighborhood.

Local officials have explained that the county courts no longer have control over sentencing criminals, and advised the residents to report all thefts to the police. But neighborhood leaders remain unsatisfied and plan to take their complaints to the Legislature.

For years, residents say, they have seen antiques stolen from their front yards, car batteries swiped from their vehicles and other thefts, all perpetrated, they say, by a small number of people who seem to always be going in and out of a revolving door at the Douglas County Jail.

After first discussing the issue with police and city officials last month, North Lawrence’s neighborhood association held a special meeting last week to talk with Douglas County District Attorney Charles Branson. He wasn't able to provide any easy answers.

“It was kind of a letdown,” Ted Boyle, president of the North Lawrence Improvement Association, said after the meeting with Branson. “What happened to ‘three strikes and you’re out’?”

Law & Order

The neighborhood group called its first special meeting in May, presenting the issue to city commissioners, a Lawrence Police Department captain and an officer who patrols the area regularly. One problem they discovered was that many of the thefts had never been reported to police. Boyle said that was one aspect of the problem that the residents could address directly. “The police can’t solve a crime if they don’t know of the crime,” he said.

But residents said police had already arrested and jailed some individuals in connection with the thefts. The real problem, residents said, was that these people seemed to get out of jail immediately and return to the neighborhood to steal again.

Police said that was beyond their control. To know what happens to a suspected thief after they’ve been arrested, they said, the residents would have to see the district attorney.

So they did.

The sentencing grid

Douglas County District Attorney Charles Branson met with about 50 members of the neighborhood group in a second special meeting, on June 19. The county’s top prosecutor started off the two-hour meeting by explaining some of the basics: misdemeanors and felonies, due process and other legal matters. But Branson said he knew what the people really wanted to hear: “How come these guys are still out running around?”

The short answer: that’s the law.

The state Legislature dictates what sentences are handed down to convicts, and judges can only follow those guidelines. Branson passed out copies of the state sentencing grid to the residents at the meeting to show that a sentence is determined by matching the severity level of the offense to the offender’s criminal history. A judge usually can only adjust a sentence up or down by a fraction.

The thefts the residents had experienced outside their homes — the disappearances of car batteries, copper wire and small appliances — were, at most, level-nine felonies, according to the grid, which put them near the bottom of the scale, Branson said.

Those offenses nearly always mean probation, not prison, unless the offender has a violent crime on their criminal record or they are convicted again while they are still on probation.

Otherwise, even if a person is convicted of theft three, four or five times, he will remain free, Branson said. While the sentencing grid generally tends to impose tougher sentences for repeat offenses, it is not built to send people to prison for low-level thefts.

So when does someone actually serve time for stealing from their neighbors again and again?

“The problem is, never,” Branson said. “That is the really frustrating part.”

It’s no fault of law enforcement or prosecutors, Branson said, and no fault of the judges, who are bound by the sentencing laws.

At least some of the residents at the meeting did not like that answer.

Unhappy constituents

Boyle, president of the neighborhood association, said the group will press on and hold a third meeting, this time inviting legislators from the area to talk about how the state's sentencing laws are made.

But if the residents are asking that more low-level offenders be sent to prison, it is likely they will once again be faced with difficult facts.

The Kansas Department of Corrections, for its part, has said it is in the middle of an overpopulation crisis, with 9,000 people in Kansas prisons. Corrections officials are trying to lock up fewer people, not more. The Legislature recently tried to cut the state's prison budget, a move vetoed by Governor Brownback on June 15.

The good news, Boyle said, is that residents have seen fewer thefts in the neighborhood lately. He said the most active thieves, under the alert eyes of the neighborhood watch group, “probably went to the other side of town.”

Boyle said the group hasn't set a date for its next meeting, and doesn't yet know who will be invited. But he and other residents are looking forward to talking with some of their elected representatives in Topeka.

“We’re going to let them know what we think about these sentencing guidelines,” Boyle said. “They got some unhappy constituents.”


toe 4 years, 5 months ago

Where is Batman when you need him?

Tony Holladay 4 years, 5 months ago

Chief Tarik Khatib won't send out the "Bat Signal" for anything below a level-nine felony.

SpeedRacer 4 years, 5 months ago

" He said the most active thieves, under the alert eyes of the neighborhood watch group, “probably went to the other side of town.”'

That's comforting to know.

Tony Holladay 4 years, 5 months ago

Yes, They have to go by my house to get to yours. :(

John Hamm 4 years, 5 months ago

And you know - IF they start hitting the West side of town something will be done about it very, very quickly.

colicole81 4 years, 5 months ago

Not true! They've been hitting the West side for months now and nothing has been done. After my car was broken into I was told they had a suspect on video. That was over a month ago and still no arrests!

Dave Gurss 4 years, 5 months ago

Some of these guys probably entered the criminal justice system when they were busted for pot at a young age.

Daniel Davidson 4 years, 5 months ago

They have moved to Brookwood mobile home park now. My home and at least 3 more that I have heard of have been hit. The perp left a flashlight at one of the sights. Hopefully the police will follow through and make a arrest and make their lives as uneasy as they have made ours.

Richard Heckler 4 years, 5 months ago

It's always good for neighborhoods to keep in touch with law enforcement..... absolutely.

People also want fewer people employed by government yet people need work to keep food on the table.

Instead of paying more and more and more to the police department who cannot stop crime why not insist on paying people to work instead?

Crime is not a crime until an act has been committed. Like it or not criminals have rights too.

Local and State governments putting more and more people out of work does not save money for taxpayers. The more people working and spending = more jobs throughout the community.

Always Low Wages Lawrence,Kansas and Wal-Mart cannot support households. What's the point in keeping worker wages in the tank?

Be active in the neighborhood and keep an eye on "new faces" or those who seem to be prowling the neighborhood. Take down license tags. Sometimes these critters actually live in the hood. Voice of experience.

The local LPD sometimes know more about people in the neighborhoods than we know. However crimes need to be reported to provide the LPD the authority to "investigate".

Liberty275 4 years, 5 months ago

"Crime is not a crime until an act has been committed."

Ever heard of "innocent until proven guilty"? No crime has been committed until the jury say's so.

jafs 4 years, 5 months ago

That's not really true.

Juries decide whether or not the prosecution has proven their case beyond reasonable doubt.

Crimes are committed all of the time without that happening, and somebody can be guilty but acquitted, if the jury is doing their job right.

John Hamm 4 years, 5 months ago

I do not quite understand this comment! "somebody can be guilty but acquitted, if the jury is doing their job right" Are you saying all crooks should be found not-guilty?

Thinking_Out_Loud 4 years, 5 months ago

No, OB. jafs is saying juries should convict only people against whom a case has been proven beyond reasonable doubt.

jafs 4 years, 5 months ago

Thank you.

Many people seem to have a misunderstanding about juries, and think that juries should figure out whether they think the accused committed the crime. In fact, that's not their job.

Richard Heckler 4 years, 5 months ago

Nonsense. The crime has been committed. The question becomes does law enforcement have the right suspect....

jafs 4 years, 5 months ago


What in my post do you not understand?

The prosecution has the burden of proving their case beyond reasonable doubt. If they haven't done that, then the correct decision for a jury is to acquit.

Many people seem not to understand that - they think it's their job to decide if the person committed the crime or not. If a juror thinks the defendant is guilty, but that the prosecution didn't prove their case and meet their burden, they should vote to acquit.

jafs 4 years, 5 months ago

That's also not true.

It's not the jury's job to decide whether or not they like the law, and rule accordingly.

If we don't like the laws, the right remedy is to elect legislators who will change them.

jafs 4 years, 5 months ago


I think you are wrong - a juror's job is to evaluate the evidence, and decide whether or not the prosecution has met their burden.

In doing that, they are supposed to follow the judge's instruction as to the laws involved.

parrothead8 4 years, 5 months ago

That's just a link to a group of people who WANT juries to be able to strike down unjust laws. Juries don't actually have that legal right.

cfostercmp 4 years, 5 months ago

They need a harsher punishment. My grandfather had his trailer stolen just last week, and now a few days ago someone broke into his truck and took some papers. They found that the papers weren't important so they tossed them on the ground.

People these days are pathetic. GET A JOB. then you wouldn't have to steal.

Maracas 4 years, 5 months ago

The bottom line is this: the Kansas legislature determines the sentencing guidelines, not the police, sheriff's department or courts. District judges must sentence a defendant according to those guidelines generally within a narrow range, often just a few months. Depending upon a defendant's criminal history, the presumption can be probation or prison. Either side can ask for a departure from the sentence imposed under the guidelines, but it's not a given that a judge will grant such a departure.

People complain about taxes and want less government. But they also want better laws, more law enforcement, better law enforcement, and criminals locked up - with no cost to them because they feel the taxes they pay should already take care of that. Kansas prisons are crowded now. People will complain if a new prison would be suggested. And they wouldn't want it anywhere near them. They will complain about too many government employees when prison staff are hired. They will complain about more police officers or sheriff's deputies hired. They will complain about new judicial areas and more judicial personnel to operate them.

There is no easy solution. But the neighborhood group is being proactive and it's being noticed. That's a good start.

tomatogrower 4 years, 5 months ago

If you know where the people live who are on probation and continue to steal, why not stand outside their house with signs, pointing out the fact that they have stolen from their neighbors. I know these people do not know shame, or they wouldn't steal in the first place, but maybe letting others know who they are would help people keep an eye on them. They obviously sleep during the day, unless they do drugs, so they can steal at night. Just plant a few signs in their yards during the day, or if you aren't afraid of these guys, then parade in front of their house. "We Are Watching You." would be a good sign. Take a few pictures of them in public (it has to be a public place) and pass them around. You don't have to lie. You just have to put their picture and say they were convicted of stealing from neighbors. It's not a lie, so you shouldn't get into trouble. And post a few in other neighborhoods. We want to know what these guys look like too.

gatekeeper 4 years, 5 months ago

Maybe because the people committing these crimes can be dangerous, are on meth and who knows what else and have already threatened neighbors that called the police. We've done a lot to let them know that we are watching and are trying to get rid of them. Why don't you come stand in front of the house they're living in and announce that they're criminals and see what happens?

JayhawkFan1985 4 years, 5 months ago

Maybe prison isn't the answer. Probation clearly isn't either. Why not make these folks pick up trash on the highways and in the parks for 20 hours a week for two years? Why not make them mow weeds on vacant lots? My point is, force them to repay society by doing something that improves the community.

50YearResident 4 years, 5 months ago

Looking at the map provided it looks like most of these crimes are happening in the areas where the homeless congregate and loiter. This is a transient problem. Get rid of the Lawrence bums and the problem will go away. Catch them and put them on a bus back to their original home where they grew up. The home they left to come here for the free benefits provided to transients.

gatekeeper 4 years, 5 months ago

These crimes in N. Lawrence aren't being committed by transients. We know who they are, where they live. They're life-long Lawrence residents.

jafs 4 years, 5 months ago

The theory of "jury nullification" is similar to the idea that states can declare federal laws unconstitutional.

While it's understandable that people and/or states might want to have that power, it's also clear that it wouldn't work very well that way - imagine if each juror could simply decide that a given law is unconstitutional and vote accordingly.

The correct remedy for problematic laws is to elect representatives that will change them, and/or use the appeals system, if necessary all the way to the SC, to challenge them.

I hate to sound "elitist", but the average juror isn't even well enough informed about things like the difference between "probable cause" and "preponderance of the evidence" standards - why would we think they could decide constitutionality with any sort of reasonably good analysis?

Richard Heckler 4 years, 5 months ago

North Lawrence and the Eastside is seedy I beg your pardon.......

The majority of politicians and their big money supporters seem to inhabit the west sides of town...... thank you.

jesse499 4 years, 5 months ago

You think, I've got news the west side is just as bad just the homes are higher priced.(crooks that make more money)

bearded_gnome 4 years, 5 months ago


many of these don't have perminent addresses, and are meth-heads. your idea wouldn't help.

for more info on them, read the North Lawrence neighborhood Facebook page. some are named, along with their habits.

the Facebook page is very cool. an expression of a very active positive neighborhood working to fix a serious problem.

gatekeeper 4 years, 5 months ago

He covered this very well in the meeting we had with him. I'm not a fan of Branson, but the problem is the sentencing guidelines in KS. Even if they're charged with a felony, unless it involves battery or serious bodily harm or some serious drug crimes, it's still probation. They can keep committing the same crimes over and over, even felonies and still just get probation. The only way for them to land in jail is if they violate probation. He handed out a sheet showing the sentencing guidlelines and they are ridiculous. Thanks KS legislature!

esteshawk 4 years, 5 months ago

The average jury does not understznd the Constitution. According to a 2010 Vanderbilt Univeristy study, only 6% of Americans know the rights outlined in the First Amendment, including right to petition the government for redress of grievences. We hear all the time "thats unconstitutional" when the fact is people are usually blowing smoke. Example: "Obamacare" IS Constitutional, regardless of what the folks at FOX News want us to believe.

jafs 4 years, 5 months ago

Well, there are still some questions for me about the ACA.

The "tax" for those not buying health insurance seems a lot like a "direct tax", which is prohibited in the constitution.

But, you're right, people are woefully un and under-educated these days.

bearded_gnome 4 years, 5 months ago

jury nullification is real and constitutional.

esteshawk 4 years, 5 months ago

Where in the Constitution is this right defined?

jafs 4 years, 5 months ago

Let's think about jury nullification for a bit.

If a juror has the right to vote according to whether or not they like the law involved, the system just doesn't work as it should. Somebody (like me) who thinks drugs should be legal could vote to acquit somebody that the prosecution had proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt.

If it's about constitutionality, what are the qualifications of the jurors that would prepare them to make that decision? Many people don't understand the constitution on even a basic level, like states that think they can make laws conflicting with federal laws and win that fight.

In my experience, jurors fail to understand and do their job enough already, we don't want more of that sort of thing.

I understand that it's difficult to be a juror if you don't agree with the laws involved in your case - I suppose the best thing to do then would be to tell the judge/etc. that you can't do the job because of that belief and get off the jury.

Laws can be changed by legislators - we can vote for, and lobby them, to make the changes we seek. And, they can be appealed all the way to the US SC if there are constitutional issues involved.

jafs 4 years, 5 months ago

The best site I've been able to find explains that jury nullification was an early attempt to give the people power, while we were still under British colonial rule.

Once we developed our own representative government, that was no longer necessary, and in fact contrary to that representation. In other words, we vote on these issues, and individuals who simply disregard our collective decision undermine our system.

Reuben Turner 4 years, 5 months ago

well i be... if y'all know who the crook is, have a meeting with him/her and express your feelings. let him/her know what that does to you when your stuff is stolen. sometimes it only takes a little talk. if that don't work, try "plan e".. i will give further instructions on plan e when necessary; lol!!

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