Law Enforcement: Small-Time Drug Possessors No Longer Charged as Felons in Wichita -- Cops Grumble

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #468)
Drug War Issues
Politics & Advocacy

Under Kansas law, possession of any amount of hard drugs is a felony, but officials in Wichita, where the criminal justice system is shuddering under the weight of drug charges, have decreed that people caught with less than a quarter-gram of methamphetamine or cocaine are to be instead charged with misdemeanor possession of drug paraphernalia, given notice to appear in court, and released. Some Wichita police are grumbling about the change.

The latest step in a decade-long de-escalation of drug prosecutions in Wichita came in November, when police officials removed narcotics detectives, prosecutors, and the state forensic lab from the loop when presented with small-time drug possessors. Now, such busts are automatically treated as misdemeanor paraphernalia charges -- unless the arrestee has a criminal history or is a gang member -- and the arrestees are released instead of being booked into jail.

Before 1993, local prosecutors routinely charged people with felony drug possession if any testable trace of drugs could be found, as in residue on crack pipes. After that, they raised the threshold to "testable" amounts, which they held to be one-tenth of a gram. Two years ago, at the request of the police, the threshold was raised a quarter-gram.

"To be honest with you, there's so many paraphernalia cases that we could clog the District Court system if we charged them all as felonies," Wichita Deputy Police Chief Tom Stolz told the Wichita Eagle. The city prosecutes some 1,600 to 1,700 drug cases a year.

While the Wichita police are officially behind the new standards, some beat officers are unhappy with the policy changes and think drug users are getting off too easy, Sgt. Chester Pinkston, president of Wichita's Fraternal Order of Police, told the Eagle. "There has definitely been some grumbling about it," he said, noting that the union has not taken a stance on the policy.

But Gary Steed, sheriff of surrounding Sedgewick County, whose deputies still pursue felony charges for small amounts of cocaine or meth, said he sympathized with Wichita officials. "You can't hardly blame them for using their resources the best way they can," he said.

Permission to Reprint: This content is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Content of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.


Anonymous (not verified)

Police deciding on who to charge based on what is convenient for them. Anarchy!

Sun, 01/14/2007 - 2:39pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

Put real criminals behind bars for longer times murders rapists thieves violent offenders ect. at least decriminalize drugs if not legalize them altogether. tax drugs, and get them out of organized criminals hands.

Thu, 01/25/2007 - 7:16pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

And all the problems go away. Marijuana is the backbone of the black market. If regulated for adult use the black market for harder drugs will dry up.

Thu, 02/01/2007 - 5:22pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

im tired of these cops running my life and depriving me of my liberties i feel as if they are a foreign government thats trying to take over this city lets not forget we all live together so why did you have to taser me 4 times because i got attacked by my dog then press charges 4 agg assualt against l.e.o. that was so fucked up i want some kind of compensation i lost my house my job and pretty much my whole life over that shit!! thankx 4 being so in control

Fri, 04/17/2009 - 6:22am Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

have those leo's been fired for the racist remarks and other insulting statements at the party, i sure hope so. i hope that follows them for life.

Sun, 05/03/2009 - 6:07pm Permalink

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