We're in the midst of National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and last night city officials in Topeka, Kansas marked the occasion by decriminalizing domestic violence. Their intent is actually to make sure that the cases will be prosecuted properly, not to encourage citizens to beat their spouses with impunity. However, the political maneuver has already let dozens of abusers off the hook and put their victims' lives in danger.
As we discussed earlier, officials from the city of Topeka and Shawnee County are currently engaged in a game of chicken over who's responsible for prosecuting domestic violence cases. When the county's budget was slashed by 10%, Shawnee County District Attorney Chad Taylor's solution was to stop prosecuting misdemeanors in Topeka's city limits. He hoped to force the city to pick up the cost of the cases, and noted, "of greatest concern are domestic violence cases." It seems Taylor thought the city might ignore minor drug or assault cases, but wouldn't simply refuse to deal with something as serious as domestic abuse. Yet, last night city officials called his bluff and repealed its law against domestic violence.
City officials told the Associated Press that the move puts them in a better position to negotiate, and forces Taylor to prosecute the cases since they're still crimes under state law. They added that this actually helps victims, because the county courts are better funded and can offer them better services. Unfortunately, that won't make much of a difference for the 18 people whose abusers were released from jail in the past few days. The same goes for those involved in the 35 incidents of domestic battery and assault reported since September, which aren't being pursued. As Rita Smith, executive director of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, said, "It's really outrageous that they're playing with family safety to see who blinks first. People could die while they're waiting to straighten this out."
Aside from the horrifying prospect of people being killed while negotiations continue, the incident is disturbing because it's part of a much bigger problem. Though local governments in Kansas are being forced to cut critical services, Governor Sam Brownback is still preparing to implement tax cuts. (So if you're planning to be assaulted and would like a cop to show up, you're going to want to wait until that funding has trickled down.) Plus, Scott Burns, executive director of the National District Attorneys Association, tells the New York Times that prosecutors across the nation are being forced to prioritize certain kinds of cases, they just aren't talking about it in public. He says:
"Usually no one comes out and says that starting today I'm not going to prosecute that crime, which sends a message of failure and tells the community you're free to commit that crime."
See, people aren't exactly free to commit one of these crimes, but thanks to the double secret probation, there's a chance criminals will be released while officials are busy hashing out the budget.
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