Crime & Courts

Wichita re-examines policies on mandatory jail booking

Violating certain Wichita city ordinances deals you a "Go Directly to Jail" card.

But a desire to ease crowding at Sedgwick County's jail — as well as reduce the fees a cash-strapped Wichita pays the county to house inmates on municipal charges — may change that.

The city is taking a hard look at its ordinances that require mandatory booking, hoping to find some that could benefit from a touch of officer's discretion.

It may be possible, Wichita Deputy Police Chief Nelson Mosley told The Eagle this week, to give those accused of violating certain city ordinances a notice to appear in court instead of taking them to jail. Mosley said those who pose a threat to others or themselves still would go to jail, and all of the offenses being reviewed are misdemeanors.

"Right now we are looking at our policies on when it is mandated that we book and exploring the possibilities to use discretion," Mosley said. "That doesn't mean they totally go free either. It means they are cited. They still have to report to court at some point."

Fees and interest

As of Thursday, Wichita had an unpaid balance of $415,097, which included fees for June and July and about $1,660 in interest, Sedgwick County Chief Financial Officer Chris Chronis said in an e-mail to The Eagle.

In 2008, the county began charging a $2.09 hourly fee to cities that booked defendants into jail on municipal charges. The goal was to get cities to think twice about using the jail, struggling with overcrowding.

The city has paid the county $1.09 million in fees, and $11.7 million in fees was wiped out by a land swap and a partial write-off.

As the city struggles with a down economy, it hopes to send fewer dollars across the street.

But as a memo in the city manager's recommended budget for next year indicates, "Above all, Wichitans can be assured that the city will not sacrifice public safety to reduce jail fees."

'Using the jail wisely'

Offenses that require mandatory booking range from petty theft and loitering to prostitution and rioting. Some traffic violations also require an automatic trip from a patrol car to a booking cell, including driving while suspended.

Defendants accused of misdemeanors also get taken to jail when they won't or can't identify themselves to police, when the suspect is not a Kansas resident, refuses to give a written promise to appear in court or is accused of theft and has been convicted of a theft charge two or more times.

Police also take defendants to jail if they need a medical examination or medical care as a result of whatever they did to allegedly break the law.

At the Derby Police Department, offenders accused of municipal charges are booked in-house.

"If they pose no threat to public safety, it's not a DV (domestic violence) and they're not intoxicated, then we process them through our facility here and do not take them to the jail," Chief Robert Lee said. "It has the same effect as if we booked them."

Police still get the defendant's fingerprints and a mug shot, he said.

Derby has been doing that for years, said Lee, a former Wichita deputy police chief.

"We try to monitor jail fees, and we try to make sure we're using the jail wisely."

Lt. Doug Nolte said Wichita police have considered in-house booking as well.

"I think that has been considered among various options," Nolte said. "There are logistical and custodian record issues in doing that, so the cost of maintaining those facilities has to be compared to the cost of booking into jail."

He said "technology is getting fast and cheap enough that that could be something that happens."

The city also is considering charging defendants a fee to offset the county's charge.

"At this point nothing has been finalized," municipal court administrator Donte Martin said in an e-mail Thursday.

Mosley said everything on the table is in the early stages.

So did City Attorney Gary Rebenstorf.

"We've had several meetings with the police department and the court administrator and my office," he said. "Those meetings are ongoing. There are no ideas yet what might be eliminated" from the list of offenses with mandatory booking.

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