Topeka City Council Votes to Repeal Domestic Violence Law

Facing budget problems and in a battle over whether it is the city or the county’s job to prosecute misdemeanor domestic violence charges, the Topeka City Council voted 7-3 on Tuesday night to repeal the law on its books that makes domestic violence a crime.

In September, the Shawnee County District Attorney announced that cuts to his own office’s budget led to his decision to stop prosecuting misdemeanors that happened in Topeka’s city limits. Instead, those cases would be the responsibility of Topeka Municipal Court. However, Topeka City Manager Dan Stanley stated that Municipal Court was not equipped to handle such cases.

According to a report in the New York Times, the city council’s move on Tuesday night “would force District Attorney Chad Taylor to prosecute the cases because they would remain a crime under state law.”

“The Kansas Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence and the National Network to End Domestic Violence are shocked that the City of Topeka and Shawnee County, Kansas, have decided that the safety of their citizens who are victims of domestic violence is not a priority,” read a press release from the Kansas Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence (KCSDV) on Tuesday. “All over the state and the nation, communities have made the safety of victims of domestic violence a priority; in spite of the economic downturn. In Kansas, two communities have recently maintained criminal justice/domestic violence related positions after losing grant funds. In one of them, the Chief of Police has continued a grant-funded investigator position, maintaining domestic violence investigation as a priority. In the other, the city has retained a police investigator position and a victim witness coordinator for the municipal court, while the local domestic violence program has continued to maintain the police response advocate position in spite of loss of funds. In another Kansas community, an expanded center serving adult and child victims of domestic and sexual violence opened this week.

“In Cincinnati, Ohio, the city governing body just passed a resolution this week declaring that living free from domestic violence is a basic human right.

“This is what prioritizing domestic violence prosecution and safety of victims looks like; not repealing city ordinances, not refusing to prosecute because of budget cuts, not tossing the safety of victims back and forth between city and county governments and prosecutors; not reducing or omitting funding for critical services and responses. This isn’t about budgets, it’s about priorities,” stated the press release.

According to Topeka news station WBIW, District Attorney Taylor released a statement on Wednesday in which he called the city council’s decision “political grandstanding,” but said he would resume prosecution of the domestic violence cases.

“My office now retains sole authority to prosecute domestic battery misdemeanors and will take on this responsibility so as to better protect and serve our community,” Taylor stated. “We will do so with less staff, less resources, and severe constraints on our ability to effectively seek justice. But we will do so willingly to preserve the public safety of all the citizens of Shawnee County.”

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