You are now free to beat your wife.
The Topeka City Council on Tuesday voted to repeal the city’s law against misdemeanor domestic battery, the latest in a budget battle that has freed about 30 abuse suspects from charges.
One of the offenders was even arrested and released twice since the brouhaha broke out Sept. 8.
It's not that Topeka's City Council wanted to decriminalize domestic violence. It's just that prosecuting offenders isn't in the budget:
It started when Shawnee County District Attorney Chad Taylor announced that a 10 percent budget cut would force him to end his office’s prosecution of misdemeanor cases, almost half of which last year were domestic battery cases.
With that, Taylor stopped prosecuting the cases and left them to the city. But city officials balked at the cost.
The county decided it could no longer afford to prosecute these offenders, so it dumped the responsibility on the city of Topeka. And Topeka assumed that if it refused, of course the county would once again take responsibility. Except that it hasn't, and the end result of the month-long standoff between the city and the county is that domestic violence is no longer a crime in Topeka, Kansas.
And Kansas, like the rest of the country, has a serious domestic violence problem. Last year, the Kansas Bureau of Investigation reported the following:
- One Domestic Violence Murder Occurred Every 10.4 Days.
- One Domestic Violence Incident Occurred Every 22 Minutes, 0 Seconds.
- Law Enforcement Made One Domestic Violence Arrest Every 41 Minutes, 48 Seconds.
The numbers don't improve if you look only at the county and city involved. In 2009, there were 1,968 incidents of domestic violence in Shawnee County, 1,733 of them in Topeka. Only 32.7 percent of those incidents resulted in arrests.
Decriminalizing domestic violence won't reduce the number of incidents—just the number of arrests. So those criminals will go free, except they won't be criminals because the violence they perpetrate is no longer a crime.
Tough economic times call for tough choices, right? Are these the kinds of decisions our leaders will be forced to make in cities and counties and states across the country? Which laws to repeal? Which criminals to set free? Which victims to abandon?
This is what austerity and shared sacrifice looks like in Topeka, Kansas: asking victims of violent crimes to sacrifice their right to justice because justice isn't in the budget.