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Recent Kansas Editorials

August 1, 2017

The Kansas City Star, July 29

It’s great that police are finally asking the public to help them catch the serial rapist who has been attacking University of Kansas and Kansas State University students since 2000.

But it’s infuriating that they waited so long to let students know what they knew.

In fact, they waited two full years before letting the public know there even was a rape in Manhattan on July 27, 2015 — and in the same block where K-State students had been raped in 2003 and 2004.

That’s dangerous on its face.

Given the fact that rapists generally keep right on committing that crime until they are caught, police didn’t need to connect the 2015 rape to the earlier crimes to know that it was vitally important to make everyone in the area aware that a violent criminal was on the loose.

On Thursday, police in Lawrence and Manhattan at last coughed up some details about the rapist and his 14 attacks on KU and K-State women, including two attempted rapes, between October 2000 and July 2015. But until then, students had been under the misimpression that the last attack was ancient history, way back in December 2008.

Riley County police said they only recently linked the latest attack to the others, though how three rapes on the same block would not be seen in that light defies logic.

And here’s one of the most damning statements police made — about themselves, that is: “Once we reached a conclusion that there was a high probability that they were indeed related,” said Capt. Tim Hegarty, who oversees investigations for Riley County, “we undertook a lengthy internal discussion about whether or not to make that conclusion public.”

That’s unacceptable, and while Hegarty said putting out the word involved some risk, you would have thought that police would have been a lot more worried about the risk of not letting students know.

In fact, the only risk we can think of is the one that usually keeps campus rapes hushed up the risk to the reputation of the schools where these crimes occur.

Since police don’t have a suspect — none of the victims knew their attacker, and there are more than a few tubby white men of medium build in their mid-30s out there — the idea that releasing the information might have compromised their investigation doesn’t hold even a thimble of water.

With all of the attention on college rape cases in Kansas, Missouri and around the country in recent years, you would think that police in Manhattan and Lawrence could have skipped the “lengthy internal discussion” and put student welfare ahead of PR.

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Pittsburg Morning Sun, July 27

We heard late Wednesday night that Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback would likely resign to take up an ambassadorship.

Wednesday, the White House announced Brownback would be ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom. If confirmed by the Senate, he’ll run the State Department’s Office of International Religious Freedom.

Having called for Brownback’s resignation some months ago, we believe his appointment — it’s unlikely he’ll face much of a fight in the Senate — has not come too soon.

Indeed it may have come far too late.

Not all of Kansas’ economic woes may be laid at the feet of Brownback, as too many have been prone to do, but certainly the budget crisis may be attributed to him.

His plan to bring Kansas taxes down to encourage economic growth was boldly conceived and might even have worked had it been implemented properly.

Brownback, State Budget Director Shawn Sullivan, and the legislature most assuredly did not.

With the reduction in revenues should have come a concomitant reduction in spending.

But with K-12 education effectively off-limits (despite a futile fight with the districts over funding levels and formulae) there was little if anywhere to cut, and the “conservative’ legislature showed no propensity to do so, in any event.

That Brownback is a good man, and meant well we have no doubt, but we all know what road is paved with good intentions, and it’s down this road which Brownback has led Kansas.

Brownback’s good intentions have led to another massive budget shortfall, another reduction in the state’s bond rating and a retroactive tax increase which will impact every family in the state.

As the governor moves on to his new — largely ceremonial — position, we hope Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer will learn from his former boss’ mistakes.

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Lawrence Journal-World, July 25

Local law enforcement agencies should embrace broad use of recording equipment as a proactive measure to protect the rights of officers as well as suspects.

A new state law requires all Kansas law enforcement agencies to adopt written policies for electronically recording interrogations and to implement those policies by July 2018. The law requires recording of all interrogations involving homicides and felony sex offenses.

The Lawrence Police Department doesn’t have a specific policy, but in general officers videotape all interrogations in the interview rooms at the Law Enforcement Center. The Douglas County Sheriff’s Office has a policy that states all felony, child abuse and sex crime interrogations shall be recorded, though interrogations regarding other crimes may be recorded as well.

Originally, the bill required all interrogations to be recorded, but the bill was modified over concerns that some jurisdictions and agencies did not have the financial or technical wherewithal to comply. That’s not the case in Lawrence and Douglas County, where it should be policy to record all interrogations.

“Recorded interrogations are an invaluable tool for law enforcement, prosecutors, defendants and juries,” said Douglas County District Attorney Charles Branson. “Not only does the recording provide reviewable evidence for a jury to consider, it is a tool that protects the integrity of the criminal justice system.”

A similar approach should be taken with body cameras. Officers with the University of Kansas police have had body cameras since 2015 and indications are that Lawrence will follow suit next year.

The Lawrence Police Department is requesting $500,000 for the purchase of such cameras for all 154 officers in the department as well as a technical support position. Assuming city commissioners approve the funding request, the cameras will be deployed next year.

Decisions still need to be made about what types of cameras will be purchased and how they will be used. But just as recording interrogations provides an indisputable record of what transpired in the interview room, body cameras show what transpired between officers and suspects on the street. Body cameras are the best way to document such interaction.

“I think generally (cameras give) people a greater feeling of confidence in their police force, so I think it has the potential to be really good for both sides of the equation,” said Lawrence Mayor Leslie Soden.

Soden is right. Law enforcement should pursue all technology they can reasonably afford and then use those tools not only to meet the minimum requirements provided by the state, but also to enhance every investigation officers tackle. Policies regarding taping interrogations and using body camera should be written to reflect such an open and transparent approach.

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Wichita Eagle, July 28

“Save Century II” advertising spots are on Wichita radio stations, meaning we have a brouhaha brewing in the mold of past disputes such as the downtown arena and Wichita schools bond issue.

Businessman and developer Bill Warren is holding nothing back in his opposition to the possibility of demolition of the city’s 48-year-old convention and performing arts center. He’s pushing the idea of renovating rather than replacing with one-minute radio spots that are airing for three weeks.

It doesn’t hurt Warren to get the word out and shape public opinion before the city presents a plan. Still, this seems so far like a controversy only in appearance.

To be sure, things are happening with Century II. In May, the city hired a consultant for $294,000 with the charge of exploring the possibility of a public-private partnership to replace or renovate Century II.

City leaders have emphasized four possibilities for Century II: Replace it; replace it with a convention center and build a performing-arts center elsewhere; renovate it; or renovate it with an emphasis on making it more for either conventions or performing arts and building for the other function elsewhere.

Century II’s detractors say the unique architecture keeps the building from competing with convention spaces in other cities. Not enough unobstructed space. Not modern enough.

Warren, and other advocates, point to Century II as an architectural icon worth saving and updating.

Unlike the controversial construction projects of the past — both eventually approved by voters — the city hasn’t said it’s prepared to offer a sales-tax increase for work on Century II.

Instead, one option would be to give developers as much as 30 acres of land for use around Century II, then taking revenue from those retail projects and using it on Century II work. That would minimize the amount the city would borrow.

Guessing your mind is moving south along the Arkansas River to WaterWalk about now.

Public-private partnerships along the river have had a range of success. WaterWalk underperformed from its original plans, including a struggling Gander Mountain as the large retail tenant.

The 30 acres available now include land north of the Drury Hotel, located at Douglas and Waco, all the way to south of the Hyatt Regency Hotel on Waterman. It includes the site of the downtown library, which will move across the river to Second Street and McLean Boulevard.

It’s wise of city leaders to recognize private development can be a boost to the project, as long as not too much is given away. A recent revelation that Wichita isn’t receiving any money from a 15-year-old WaterWalk profit-sharing agreement — after spending $41 million on the project — points to the importance of making the best possible deals when dealing with such prime land along the river.

Still, Warren’s makes a good point when he says Wichitans should get to vote if the city decides it wants to tear down Century II and start over. It’s a city icon and would be replaced by spending at least a portion of the project with taxpayer dollars.

But we’re not there yet. When we are, we’ll hear plenty from both sides. We’ve learned that from major building issues of the past.

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