Crime & Courts

Wichita law enforcement teams make sure those on probation are observing curfew

He comes to the door dressed in a tank top and boxer shorts, a toothbrush dangling from his mouth.

The police and probation officers standing on his porch nod at each other.

“That’s not a good sign,” says Lori Gibbs, residential facility manager for the Sedgwick County Department of Corrections.

Given that it took him a while to answer the door, the man is probably not so much concerned about dental hygiene as he is covering up the smell of alcohol, Gibbs says.

In just a few minutes, he will kiss his pregnant girlfriend goodbye and become one of five gang members taken to the Sedgwick County Jail this night for violating the conditions of their probation.

Police and probation officers make curfew visits about once every two months to gang members judges have assigned to probation instead of jail or prison, checking to see whether they are where they’re supposed to be and whether they have been drinking or doing drugs.

Curfew checks remind criminals that probation is serious business, said Mark Masterson, director of the county’s corrections department.

“That’s a population that we think is very important that we supervise extremely intensely,” Masterson said of gang members.

Gang violence has risen this year, though gang-related homicides are down, the district attorney’s office reported this week.

On July 11, during the latest round of curfew checks, police and probation officers checked on 14 people. Only one probationer was home and hadn’t been drinking. Six didn’t answer the door. Five were home but were deemed to be under the influence. One was at work during hours he was supposed to be at home. Corrections confirmed the next day he was working at a fast-food restaurant. The other was reportedly at Wal-Mart picking up milk.

Not at home

Probation officers and police from the Wichita Police Department’s Special Community Action Team break into teams based on geography. Usually there are four teams, but west-side police officers are unable to make it out this time. SCAT officers handle drug and gang crimes.

The probation and police officers assigned to south Wichita don’t find anyone home at their first stop at an apartment on Pennsylvania.

The officers joke that they should hang tags that say, “We were here. You weren’t.”

At the next stop, a woman says the man they’re looking for has been staying at his mom’s house. The woman says she kicked him out. Address or job changes are supposed to be reported to probation officers within 24 hours.

Next up is a house on South Hydraulic. No one answers the door.

At a house on South Topeka, not only is the probationer home, but his breathalyzer test comes up negative. Good news for him. Police thank him and probation officers praise him. Family members peek out the door.

At the next place on South Market, the person who answers the door tells police that the man they’re looking for is at work at a fast-food restaurant.

A woman holding a baby answers the next door at a house on South Main. She says she sent her son, the father of the newborn boy, to Wal-Mart to get some milk and other groceries.

One of the two police officers asks about the baby and makes small talk with the woman. She says she didn’t realize that her son still had a curfew and apologizes, saying she wouldn’t have sent him to the store if she had known he would get into trouble for not being home. She tells police the situation is her fault.

Later, in the car, Jay Holmes, community corrections administrator, notes that her son should have known he had a curfew.

Alcohol violations

A giant TV glows inside the living room at the next stop on South Emporia.

The man with the toothbrush stands in the doorframe, illuminated by a porch light, his girlfriend beside him. Their 10-month-old son is inside.

The man tells the police and probation officers that he hasn’t been drinking.

“I don’t even like beer,” he says.

But the breathalyzer he just blew into tells a different story.

“This is your opportunity to be honest about your alcohol consumption,” Holmes tells the man.

The man sticks by his story.

A second breathalyzer test shows his alcohol level has risen.

The man, who is on probation for drug and traffic charges in Sedgwick and Butler counties, says a friend had a cup of beer that he poured some water into and maybe some of the beer was still in the cup.

After more prodding, he admits he might have drunk a beer. But just one, he says.

The police officers handcuff him.

His girlfriend gets him a shirt and some jeans, zipping them up for him because his hands are restrained behind his back.

Police take him to jail, where Holmes and Gibbs fill out paperwork and wait until detention deputies book him.

The man, who has six children and one on the way, tells Gibbs that he was drinking because he’s been worried about money, including child support. Now he just has more to worry about, Gibbs tells him.

The probationer has been working at a temporary job. At the jail, he worries about losing his job.

Holmes asks him how he thinks his girlfriend is doing.

“She’s probably crying,” the man says.

Holmes asks him how that makes him feel.

Bad, the man says. He asks several times what will happen next. As of Friday, he was still in jail.

After paperwork, the team hits the streets again.

The next man they check on admits, quickly, that he has been drinking. The machine confirms that.

He and his girlfriend both wear monitoring devices on their ankles. Probation officers note that the woman, who says she’s on municipal probation, appears high.

The man’s mother comes to the door with clothes for her son.

As of Friday, four of the five men arrested during the curfew check were still in jail. The one who got out was ordered to be on a remote alcohol-monitoring device for the duration of his probation.

Held accountable

The corrections department also conducts checks on people who are on probation for driving under the influence to make sure that they are not abusing alcohol or drugs.

“Our first priority and responsibility is enforcement of the court’s orders,” corrections director Masterson says.

Holmes echoes that.

“We want to praise those clients who are home and hold those clients accountable who are drinking or otherwise committing a crime,” Holmes says.

Sedgwick County District Court Chief Judge James Fleetwood said he often makes curfew from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. a condition of probation.

“It’s a standard condition,” he says. “The only exceptions are for regular employment and necessary travel to and from work and residence by the most direct route.

“The reason for the curfew is most criminal conduct does take place in the later hours of the evening and early morning. There’s just nothing going on in the community after 10:30 p.m. that’s going to assist them in successfully completing probation.”

Fleetwood says he takes curfew violation seriously.

“If a person is breaking curfew, I will at the very least order them to court to explain their circumstances,” he says.

He may increase their community service hours or make them report to their probation officer more often. Or he might make them spend some time in jail or wear an ankle bracelet that monitors where they are.

The corrections department has been conducting curfew checks for about seven years. Wichita police accompany probation officers on curfew checks, assigned by areas of the city. Sheriff’s deputies go out on DUI checks.

The probation officers, also called intensive supervision officers, never go on checks without police, Holmes says.

“I went on one where I thought it was about to go south,” Holmes says. The client “became belligerent and verbally inappropriate. You just never know how they’re going to react. Some of it is, ‘How much do they have to lose?’”