Topeka decriminalizes domestic battery, D.A. blinks

The Topeka, Kan., city council voted Tuesday to decriminalize domestic battery, in a political move to force the Shawnee County District Attorney’s office to take up the cases instead. And on Wednesday, it got what it wanted.

District attorney Chad Taylor had announced earlier that, to save money after a 10 percent budget cut, his office would stop prosecuting misdemeanors committed within Topeka, the Topeka Capital-Journal reports. That meant Topeka had to do it instead. On Wednesday afternoon, in response to the Topeka vote, Taylor said his office would resume prosecuting Topeka’s domestic violence cases.

"I am deeply saddened by the City of Topeka's unfortunate decision to place resources and political grandstanding before its constituents' safety," Taylor said in a statement, according to ABC News. "Public safety is the core responsibility of government and a responsibility I am deeply committed to upholding. Therefore, effective immediately, my office will commence the review and filing of misdemeanors decriminalized by the City of Topeka."

Topeka Mayor Bill Bunten and other city officials claimed that the city didn’t have the resources to prosecute its own domestic violence cases.

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According to ABC News:

The DA's office has prosecuted the crimes for over 10 years, according to Bunten, and Topeka shouldn't be forced to absorb those costs. The DA would need to continue prosecuting misdemeanor domestic violence offenses for the five towns in the county that do not have municipal courts, and so would need to employ the support staff either way. Additionally, Bunten noted, any convictions could be appealed to the county level, which would make the municipal court redundant.

Victims’ advocates decried the Topeka city council’s cynical move. “I absolutely do not understand it,” Rita Smith, executive director of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, told the Kansas City Star after the vote. “It’s really outrageous that they’re playing with family safety to see who blinks first. People could die while they’re waiting to straighten this out.”

While the Topeka city council won their game of chicken, Taylor argued in his statement that its victory was nothing to celebrate. He said his office had increased misdemeanor domestic battery filings by more than 80 percent and convictions by more than 50 percent in the past three years, the Topeka Capital-Journal reported. However, he added:

“This progress is now threatened by the Shawnee County Commission and Topeka City Council’s actions. Public safety is being ignored by the leaders of this community, and we will shortly see the consequences of their actions. A drastic reduction in staffing levels will impact the timely filing of criminal cases. It will impact what cases are filed. And it will impact the services provided to the public. In short, these decisions to put politics above public safety will make our community a less safe, less secure place to live.”