TOPEKA, Kan. — Advocates for abuse victims said Wednesday that a dispute between the city of Topeka and the district attorney over the prosecution of domestic violence misdemeanors will make people who are already scared think twice before reporting abuse.
The mayor and council of Kansas’ capital city voted to repeal the city’s ordinance against domestic violence Tuesday night, a dramatic turn in their attempt to force the county to back away from its budget-driven decision to stop prosecuting misdemeanors committed inside Topeka.
“It can be dangerous,” said Becky Dickinson, director of the Topeka YWCA’s Center for Safety and Empowerment. “It can escalate for the victim. If charges aren’t filed, they can be released and they can be angry because they were arrested.”
Officials with the Topeka police and Shawnee County District Attorney Chad Taylor’s office did not immediately return messages left Wednesday.
Taylor contends that the county commission forced his decision by cutting the budget by 10 percent for 2012, when his office is swamped by felony cases. City leaders argue that Topeka can’t afford to replicate county services for domestic abuse victims or rent jail space from the county for suspects.
Since early September, Topeka has had at least 35 reported incidents of domestic battery or assault, and those cases are not being pursued. As of last Friday, 18 people jailed have been released without facing charges, according to Topeka police. Prosecutors and police have refused to discuss details of the cases out of concern for victims’ privacy, making it difficult to assess in what situations suspects aren’t being prosecuted.
Dickinson said the decision sends the wrong message about domestic violence and make it even more unlikely that abuse victims will step forward for help.
The city’s aim appears to be forcing Taylor to back away from his decision. A city spokesman said interim City Manager Dan Stanley ( SXE – news – people ) has been in contact with Taylor throughout the process and sent him a note Wednesday for further discussions. Stanley will meet with the chairman of the Shawnee County Commission on Thursday, Dave Bevens said.
Joyce Grover, executive director of the Kansas Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, called the city council’s decision “an unprecedented step backward.”
“The message creates a clear and present danger to Topeka citizens. The standoff is unconscionable. It just has to go away,” Grover said. “Prosecution has to start today.”