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Why do domestic violence cases go to KC court that can’t serve warrants or confiscate guns?

By The Kansas City Star Editorial Board February 11, 2020 05:00 AM

Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas announced an ordinance to keep guns out of the hands of people convicted of domestic violence Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2019, at the Rose Brooks Center. By James Wooldridge

Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas was checking on what impact his new city ordinance was having — the one that was supposed to be taking guns out of the hands of domestic abusers.

Zero impact, he learned. And that wasn’t going to change since the Kansas City Police Department wasn’t confiscating those guns. Chief Rick Smith told Lucas that his officers would not be doing that in the future, either.

“A drug dealer does not just get to walk around with firearms” after a conviction, Lucas said, and yet, domestic abusers do. “I feel a hell of a lot more threatened by someone threatening a loved one than someone selling crack. Our criminal justice system is really still about drugs, and we have not cared enough about those in abusive relationships.”

The city domestic violence court that makes surrendering guns a condition of probation has never had a way to take them, a place to put them or anyone to serve arrest warrants.

As many as one in five of Kansas City homicides are related to domestic violence, Lucas said, so “when we talk about solving our homicide problem, this is a huge area we’re missing.”

He’s so right. And to his even greater credit, Lucas is trying to change that.

In the budget the mayor will present this week, he will propose funding for two probation officers who would be assigned to the city court and would confiscate guns from those who’ve been found guilty of any domestic violence-related offense. Under the conditions of their probation, they are not supposed to have firearms, but that’s only in theory.

Funding these probation officers is essential.

“If this happens, it will be huge,” says Courtney Wachal, Kansas City Municipal Domestic Violence Court judge. “We have cases other counties would try as felonies.” And offenders who come back again and again, yet never are charged with one.

Whether that’s on the police, the prosecutors or some of both, the 867 strangulation cases handled last year by this city court are an argument for more resources for the court.

They’re also an indictment of the way things have always worked.

If you doubt that Wachal handles offenders who should not get to keep their guns, spend even an hour in her courtroom.

On one recent day, her 126 cases — a light load, she said — included five men accused of strangulation, one of whom shot his partner’s car and said she’d be next. Another of these also allegedly banged his partner’s head against the wall over and over.

One defendant was accused of beating his girlfriend with an extension cord, another of breaking his girlfriend’s car window with the butt of the gun he’s not supposed to have.

Yet another, whose wife had already gotten a protective order, allegedly shoved her and their 2-month-old baby into a closet, then broke the door down.

Another still, who’d previously been in this same court on charges that he chased his family around the house with a machete, held a knife to his own throat and threatened to kill them all. And on and on and on.

A couple of times, prosecutor Abby Pannell told a defendant that if he kept contacting the person he was not supposed to be contacting, she was going to ask the judge to issue a warrant for his arrest.

She did not, of course, add that there would be no one to execute that warrant. But if we care about public safety half as much as we say we’ll do, that won’t be the case much longer.
Read more here: https://www.kansascity.com/opinion/editorials/article240166198.html?fbclid=IwAR1JUI2YKccQywGgsxri9Iw5JIXWk-VCx_uWW6HFWL1z5BdfiEoZ-xYravI#storylink=cpy