Archive for Thursday, April 7, 2005

Sheriff praises Legislature’s crime-related initiatives

April 7, 2005

Last week, the Kansas Legislature approved a bill that would strengthen laws governing people who prey on children.

The legislation, which was sent to Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, also would increase the statute of limitations for most crimes from two years to five years. The bill also increases the sentence for indecent solicitation of a child and aggravated indecent solicitation of a child under 14 to make prison time a greater certainty. It also gives prosecutors the ability to charge those possessing child pornography images with a crime for each image.

The legislation, which has drawn praise from the Kansas attorney general, also earned high marks with Leavenworth County Sheriff Dave Zoellner.

"I think, obviously, crimes have changed a lot from back in the old days," Zoellner said. "Technology has really dictated a lot of things. It's amazing what can be done, through technology, to commit crimes."

And law enforcement, including prosecutors, must react to that - both in terms of investigations and additional teeth in laws, such as the one sent to the governor last week.

The portion of the law that extends the statute of limitations on some crimes also is a plus for law enforcement, Zoellner said.

"When it comes to investigations that require a long time, I think that's where it will help," he said. "Two years seems like a long time, but really it isn't. Some crimes now are more technical. It gives more opportunity to collect evidence and evaluate it."

And Zoellner underscored that suspects also could benefit - depending on their guilt or innocence - with additional time for investigation.

"Maybe the suspect that you're looking at really isn't the suspect you should be looking at," the sheriff said.

The Legislature also has been working on a bill that would expand the state's online registry for sex offenders and other violent criminals.

Kansas allows the public to track sex offenders and other violent criminals through an online registry at the Kansas Bureau of Investigation's Web site, accessKansas.org/kbi. But as the law now stands, the site contains only offenders whose crimes happened after April 1994.

The Legislature has been debating whether to make the Web site retroactive to convictions as early as 1985, which would roughly double the size of the 3,100-person list.

A total of 58 who live in Leavenworth County are on the KBI's registry - 54 of those were convicted of sex crimes.

Zoellner and Lansing Police Chief Steve Wayman said they favored expansion of the state's registry system.

"I think awareness is a big key," Zoellner said. "I think people (offenders) have a right to live, but I think people, especially those with children, have the right to know they have a sex offender living in the neighborhood. My thing is: If it can prevent one abduction or murder of a child, wherever it may be, I'm all for it."

Wayman said the registry is a good tool for the public to use.

"If people want to take the opportunity to check on whether there are any such offenders living in their neighborhood, they should be able to have that opportunity," Wayman said.

Wayman acknowledged the list could potentially cause harassment problems for people who had committed a crime, reformed themselves and were law-abiding citizens.

"We've never had that problem, but I would not want the registry used to create a harassment problem," he said.

A key ingredient for making methamphetamine no longer will be within easy reach of the public under legislation sent last week to Sebelius. Directed at meth makers, the bill was a compromise worked out by House and Senate negotiators. The Senate approved it 39-0. The House vote was 119-2.

The new law will be named for Greenwood County Sheriff Matt Samuels, who was shot and killed Jan. 19 at a home near Virgil where a suspected meth lab was found. The new legislation will require certain cold and allergy tablets containing ephedrine or pseudoephedrine to be sold only by pharmacies from behind a counter. Customers will have to show identification and sign a log book. The bill makes it illegal for retailers to sell more than three packages within a week to a person. The Sudafed-type items will be disappearing behind the counter by summer.

The measure is patterned after an Oklahoma law credited in that state with dramatically reducing meth lab seizures. Kansas law enforcement agencies reported seizing 583 labs last year, down from 847 in 2001.

And anything that helps reduce the number of methamphetamine labs is a benefit, according to Zoellner.

"It should make my job easier," he said. "But since we're close to the state line, to really work here, it needs to be law in Missouri and Nebraska."

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