Why Topeka, Kan., repealed its ban on domestic violence
The move was part of a successful bid to force the county district attorney to prosecute misdemeanor domestic-violence charges, which he wasn't doing because of budget cuts. For now, the crisis is averted, but the deeper budget problem for cities nationwide endures.
The debate over who would pay for prosecuting domestic-battery crimes in Topeka, Kan., which raised issues about what services should be sacrificed to budget cuts, was resolved Wednesday, at least temporarily.Skip to next paragraph
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At a time when states and localities nationwide are struggling to balance their books, Shawnee County commissioners in Kansas recently made a tough decision, cutting the county district attorney office's $3.5 million budget by 10 percent.
District Attorney Chad Taylor had a novel response: On Sept. 8, he said he no longer had the money to prosecute misdemeanors, including domestic battery.
The standoff ended Wednesday when Mr. Taylor agreed to prosecute the misdemeanors despite the strain on his department. A day earlier, the Topeka City Council had controversially lifted a ban on domestic violence in an effort to force Taylor's hand.
But the deeper fiscal challenges remain, and they point to the depth of budget cuts facing local governments. During the past two to three years, district attorney's offices have been forced “to do more with less,” says Scott Burns, executive director of the National District Attorneys Association in Alexandria, Va.
The situation in Topeka is “not unprecedented,” he adds. For example:
- Some services to victims of domestic violence have also been cut in North Carolina's Union County, and cases could be delayed.
- The district attorney in Nevada's Clark County in April flatly refused an official request to cut his office by 9 percent.
- Prosecutors in North Carolina's Wake County had to fill in as receptionists this summer to cover staffing cuts.