Violent, drug-related crimes are on the increase in Johnson County. It’s now serious enough that next month Sheriff Calvin Hayden will reopen a special task force whose purpose is to put pressure on drug dealers.
Citing shootings in north Overland Park and Olathe in just the past several weeks, Hayden said violence connected to marijuana dealers appears to be driving a recent uptick in violent crime.
“Our narcotics have gone up exponentially,” Hayden told a recent meeting with county commissioners and other county officials. “There are 16- and 17-year-olds that are doing marijuana rip-offs. They’re armed, looking for people dealing marijuana to rip them off.”
In fact, every city in Johnson County except De Soto has by now had a drive-by shooting of some sort, he said.
Hayden’s comments echoed those of District Attorney Steve Howe, who recently told the Post his office filed 7 percent more cases for violent crime in 2018 over the previous year.
A northern Overland Park neighborhood has been particularly hard hit, with two shootings in January and a stabbing last month. One of those incidents is thought by police to be drug-related.
The task force will consist of two supervisors and eight officers plus one federal agent, Hayden said, and will become operational on April 1. So far sheriffs in Miami, Johnson and Franklin counties are participating, as well as the Shawnee Police Department, and the Drug Enforcement Administration in an advisory capacity. Hayden said he hopes other cities will get involved as the task force gets going.
A similar group was at work several years ago, but was cut during the recession, Hayden said.
The idea is to put pressure on drug dealers, he said, without pushing the crime further into neighboring counties.
“We’ve got significant drug dealers living in Johnson County. I don’t want them here. We’re going to start chasing them,” Hayden said.
Looking to keep jail costs in control
Hayden also said his office is looking at creative ways to keep expenses of a rising jail population from swamping the county budget next year.
Some of those include charging cities more for housing the inmates they send or taking in prisoners from the Kansas Department of Corrections, which is beset by staff shortages.
The county jail population has been trending upward the past five years, with the average daily population up 20.5 percent from 2014. Felony case filings also are on the rise, with 2,658 filed in 2018 compared to 2,091 in 2014.
The jail has enough staff right now to handle a daily population of 818 inmates. When its population increases beyond that, a new section of the jail has to be opened up. That means overtime while new officers are being trained.
The costs of housing inmates are also expected to increase substantially in the next budget. Hayden said the department has been told inmate expenses that include transportation, medicine and food may increase by $750,000 in 2020.
All of that gives his office an incentive to find new ways to cut costs or generate income. Hayden said he’d checked with other sheriffs and found that the amount Johnson County charges cities that send inmates is well on the low side.
Sheriff may look to increase charges to cities for housing inmates
It costs about $150 a day to house a jail inmate, yet the county only charges cities $35, he said. Raising that fee could be significant because half of the people who are in jail are there on municipal charges of light misdemeanors.
Cities could pass the cost on to violators as part of the court costs, he said.
Increasing the city fees will not be popular, he said. But, “when you look at the fact that half of our jail population is municipal charges it may accomplish that at least they’ve got to think about who they’re putting in jail,” he said.
Hayden’s office is also actively looking at taking up to 48 inmates from state prisons, which have been short-handed. The head of Kansas corrections recently declared an emergency because of a staffing shortfall at state prisons, meaning mandatory overtime for prison workers, with the El Dorado facility being especially hard hit.
State officials have already been in town for a jail tour, Hayden said. The state would pay for transportation and medical costs, but further details have not yet been worked out.
Also, Hayden said he’d like to figure out a way that county deputies could write a citation for certain less serious infractions. For instance, “If you are a kid and let’s say you’re going to Lawrence and driving down K-10 and you get stopped east of K-7 and you’ve got a joint, you’re going to get a ticket from the city of Lenexa to appear in court. When you go past Cedar Creek Parkway and we stop you and you’ve got a joint, you’re going to jail.”
If the amount in possession is a small “user” quantity, Hayden said he’d like to be able to have the same ticket-writing authority.