If you missed the amnesty day for traffic violators in Sedgwick County on Friday, you probably weren’t alone.
About 500 people showed up to court, and it took more than two hours just to process each one, even after the District Attorney’s Office sent six to eight lawyers to help. The entire courtroom and all the pews in the hallways were filled, with many single parents bringing their children. Security had to hurriedly find additional people to work on Friday, which is usually the court’s slow day, according to Phil Journey, the judge who planned the day.
The court was able to help about 350 of those people. About 150 had problems with their licenses or insurance, which only the state revenue office can deal with, and Journey wasn’t able to coordinate with the state revenue office in time to set up a booth at the event. Because the demand was so high, he’s hoping to hold the event again.
This is the third time in the past two years that an amnesty event has been overwhelmed by people seeking help. More than 1,000 people showed up in March last year to try to get their criminal records expunged. Then, last fall, hundreds turned out to a community center to try to get their suspended driver’s licenses reinstated.
Journey said that Friday’s event was just a drop in the bucket. He said there are still about 8,000 people with outstanding traffic warrants who need help. And this is despite the fact that, he said, traffic violations keep going down every year, in part, he thinks, because the Kansas Highway Patrol doesn’t have the money for gas to enforce driving laws after a continued reduction in their budget.
For those who couldn’t make the event on Friday, there are still opportunities to get help. Although calling it “Amnesty Day” helps ease people’s minds, Journey said, the court does essentially the same thing three times per week: every Monday and Wednesday at 8:30 a.m. and every Wednesday at 3 p.m.
Wichita’s municipal court also sees about 20 people every morning, Journey said, but you have to show up early: Sign-ups start at 7 a.m.
“There is a tremendous demand out there,” Journey said. “They get scared because they don’t know what’s going to happen because they don’t have an experience and freeze up. If you have an issue, we’ll get it resolved and help you get it taken care of.”
Journey was even able to help a few people with parole violations who had missed payments or appointments. The court got them set up to start making their visits and payments again.
Only one participant was deemed too risky to just release: a man who tested positive for having alcohol on his breath in his car, many times, despite being told that he couldn’t drink. His car won’t start with the interlock device, but Journey worried he might have another car somewhere. The man fled before he could be apprehended, Journey said.
Where and when to get help
If you have an unpaid traffic violation from the city of Wichita, go to 455 N. Main. They start taking names at 7 a.m. and will help 20 people.
If you have an unpaid traffic violation from Sedgwick County or the Kansas Highway Patrol, go to the fifth floor at 525 N. Main on Mondays and Wednesdays at 8:30 a.m. or Wednesdays at 3 p.m.
If you are confused about which one to go to, look at your tickets or letters to see whether they say Wichita or Sedgwick County at the top.