City aims to stop chronic offenders from clogging up system - KCTV5

City aims to stop chronic offenders from clogging up system

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It is a problem on a scale that may seem surprising: Low-level repeat offenders in Kansas City constantly taking up emergency resources.

According to Kansas City, MO, Police Department, one repeat offender, a chronic alcoholic, cost the city $148,000 one year in ambulance rides alone.

A few months back, police and prosecutors started a new system to pinpoint those offenders and get them on a separate track to help them recover and not reoffend.

For officers Kenny Miller and Doug Harr, a new day begins with an old call. They call it a "party down," someone passed out in the open. The man is too intoxicated to get up on his own, so police call for an ambulance. Another squad car and a fire truck then arrive on scene.

"You're dealing with an $800 ambulance ride for the subject that has got to go to the hospital, and that doesn't include the hospital costs, what they're going to end up charging him. And then you have the fire truck that arrived, that's going to be another $400 to $500," Miller said. "And then also you got the police that actually had to come. Two cars, three officers ... you're looking at a couple hundred dollars there, too."

And it happens more often than one might think.

"Our car alone, we would average four to five a day," Harr said.

It has been largely a communication problem, too. The police department and municipal courts are right next to each other downtown, but they haven't always talked to each other like neighbors.

Assistant City Prosecutor Martha Means is now working to change that.

Using a new automated tracking system, she checks court dockets every day, searching for patterns that keep low-level chronic offenders clogging up the system time after time.

"The trespass, the disturbing the peace, the disorderly conduct ... they're generally high-need individuals, that have substance abuse and mental health issues," Means said.

When she finds one that fits the mold, Means now sends them directly to one of three specialty courts - drug court, mental health or the veterans' court.

"So often, we've tried to have a one-size-fit-all approach. Well, that's not really fair, and that's not really justice for everyone depending on what their specific needs and situations are," said Judge Ardie Bland, who leads the veterans' court.

Through the specialty courts, offenders undergo rehab, counseling and find housing.

"Once individuals are stabilized, it helps them to think rationally, make better decisions and then we don't have many of the same problems," Bland said.

Arthur Hooks' sense of pride is clear today - it's a feeling he thought he had lost for good.

A Vietnam-era veteran, Hooks fell into drug addiction, living on the streets and feeding his habit by committing petty crimes that landed him in court all too often.

"Oh, like at least, every two to three months," Hooks said.

Then he was referred to the veterans program, and the pattern stopped.

"Seems like they want to understand what's going on with us, because of our past history as being a soldier," Hooks said.

He is now clean and sober for more than a year, just moved into a new apartment and plans to go back to school.

"It tickles me to death to know that I've got a lot to accomplish now," he said.

It's a change Miller and Harr say they are seeing more under the new system.

"It's made it a lot easier for us to identify them and now we have a direct line for a prosecutor of who to call," Miller said.

And they're trying to get more officers on board to write tickets, pinpoint repeat offenders and get them the help they need.

"If it's not that serious, give that person a chance because deep down inside he has a heart, and if you open that heart, he'll turn around," Hooks said.

Prosecutors say the new system doesn't cost any more money. They're redirecting what the courts already had.

Prosecutors say it costs $67 a day to keep someone in the city jail, compared to $85 a week to put them up in transitional housing and help them through recovery.

The alternative courts are optional programs, so if someone chooses not to go through rehab, prosecutors are now pushing for longer sentences for those people.

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