Eagle editorial: Crack down on thieves

03/15/2013 12:00 AM

08/08/2014 10:15 AM

Wichita Police Department statistics for 2012 justify the stated commitment of new Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett to crack down on property crimes.

According to 2012 numbers recently released by Wichita Police Chief Norman Williams, property crime – burglary, theft and auto theft – spiked 9.7 percent in Wichita last year compared with 2011. Theft cases were up 13.3 percent, largely because of a significant increase in shoplifting. Thieves most often target cash, cellphones and purses, Williams said.

The property-crime numbers stood apart from the modest 2.2 percent increase in overall crime and the year-to-year decreases in robbery, aggravated assault and murder, showing room for significant improvement.

Most property criminals don’t live in fear of being caught. The Eagle’s Tim Potter recently reported that just 1 in 7 burglaries in Wichita is solved.

That’s the lowest clearance rate of any local crime – and an unofficial license to steal. And the map accompanying Potter’s article showed that last year’s 2,854 residential burglaries in Wichita affected every part of the city, while hitting the core the hardest.

So the community should be cheering on Bennett as he reorganizes the District Attorney’s Office to put more focus on property crimes, in part by loading up repeat offenders with the maximum number of charges possible. This stacking of charges, including for other crimes such as forgery, allows for higher bonds and harder sentences. As important, it should motivate some convicted burglars who’ve received probation to consider finding a new livelihood. Bennett has dedicated a new economic-crime unit in his office to the cause, giving such prosecution the same rank as that of gang and sex crimes.

“I think with just some new energy put into property crimes, interacting with the law enforcement agents who investigate these crimes, that some real good work can take place,” Bennett recently told KMUW 89.1-FM, saying they already see some good results and are conferring with big retailers’ loss-prevention officers.

Area residents also can and should do better when it comes to protecting their own property from would-be thieves and burglars.

Document and photograph possessions, so they can be identified after they’re gone. Keep garage doors closed and car and house doors locked. Keep one eye on valuables and the other on the surroundings, being attentive to suspicious activity in the neighborhood. And remember that the largest city in Kansas and its surrounding area can’t expect to escape crime, including burglaries.

“I can’t lock them up forever, nor do I want to,” Bennett recently told The Eagle regarding burglars – nor, of course, could the jail or the county and state budgets handle the cost of doing so.

But local burglars, car thieves and other crooks need to believe that property crimes won’t go unprosecuted and therefore unpunished.

For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman

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