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People arrested for possessing small amounts of illegal drugs no longer get hauled off to jail in Wichita.
Many caught with less than a quarter-gram of meth or cocaine are charged with possession of drug paraphernalia, given notice to appear in a misdemeanor courtroom and sent on their way.
A gram of cocaine weighs about the same as a packet of sugar, narcotics officer said, and costs $65 to $85.
Possession of a quarter-gram of illegal drugs used to be prosecuted as a felony in Wichita -- and it still is in the rest of Sedgwick County and in Johnson County.
The practice was changed in Wichita about two years ago to allow police to better use their resources, said Deputy Police Chief Tom Stolz. Detectives now can focus on more serious drug investigations.
'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,' he said.
The change probably doesn't alter the punishment -- usually probation -- for someone convicted of a first offense, a local prosecutor said.
But Sgt. Chester Pinkston, president of Wichita's Fraternal Order of Police, said he has heard complaints from officers who feel drug users are going unpunished.
'There definitely has been some grumbling about it,' he said. The union has not take a stance on the policy.
A matter of jurisdiction
State law makes possession of any amount of cocaine or meth a felony.
'The law is very specific,' said police Lt. Scott Heimerman. 'Possession is possession.'
Sedgwick County Sheriff Gary Steed said his deputies still pursue felony charges when they find small amounts of cocaine or meth. But, he said, he can see why police have adopted the quarter-gram limit.
'You can't hardly blame them for using their resources the best way they can,' he said.
Johnson County Attorney Paul Morrison said prosecutors in his office routinely file felony charges against people arrested for possession of less than a quarter-gram of drugs.
'We don't file residue cases, but a quarter-gram is not considered residue here,' he said. 'We do prosecute quarter-gram cases.'
Morrison becomes Kansas attorney general this week.
Jan Lunsford, who until Friday was a spokesman for the attorney general's office, said that office did not want to take a position on how such cases should be handled.
'This is a local jurisdiction issue,' he said.
In years past, Sedgwick County prosecutors routinely filed felony charges in cases involving empty crack pipes that tested positive for cocaine.
In 1993, prosecutors stopped filing charges with 'testable' amounts of cocaine and began requiring 'measurable' amounts.
The Sedgwick County district attorney's office considered 0.1 grams to be the minimum measurable amount.
About two years ago, at the request of police, the threshold for Wichita police cases was raised to 0.25 grams.
Still, suspects caught with small amounts of drugs were booked into the Sedgwick County Jail, and their cases were sent into the state criminal justice system.
A narcotics detective would read reports from the arresting officers and prepare a probable-cause affidavit that would be presented to prosecutors. The drugs would be tested at the Sedgwick County Forensic Science Center, a process that could take 30 days.
'Residue' isn't enough
In November, police officials moved to cut narcotics detectives, prosecutors and the Forensic Science Center out of a loop that would ultimately lead to misdemeanor charges anyway, Stolz said.
That month, small baggies, each containing a quarter-gram of white powder, were tacked to the bulletin boards at all four of the police department's substations.
Officers were told that anything less than the amount in the bag was considered by the department to be 'residue' -- not enough to merit the filing of felony charges.
During the training sessions, officers were asked, in essence, to file charges themselves through Municipal Court citations for possession of drug paraphernalia, a misdemeanor.
Officers will continue to seize the drugs, but in routine cases, they will release the suspects after issuing the citations.
Deputy District Attorney Kim Parker said her office still applies the 0.1-gram threshold in Wichita police cases if a suspect has a prior criminal record or is a known gang member who poses a threat to the community.
She said state sentencing guidelines mandate probation for first-time offenders convicted of felony drug possession.
If the cases are filed in Wichita Municipal Court as misdemeanors, she said, a person can be sentenced to up to a year in jail. Typically, first-time offenders in both courts are placed on probation.
Stolz and other officers in the department said they didn't know how many drug cases fall below the 0.25-gram threshold. The department handles 1,600 to 1,700 drug cases a year.
In cases where a person is caught with what appears to be about a quarter-gram, he said, officers are being asked to handle the case the old way.
'If there's any doubt in the officers' minds, we're asking them to send the case to a detective.'
-------------------- "To do right is to know what you want. Now when you are dissatisfied with yourself it's because you are after something you don't really want. What objects are you proposing to yourself? Are they the objects you really value? If they are not, you are cheating yourself. I don't meant that if you chose to pursue the objects you most value, you will attain them; of course not. Your experience will tell you that. But success in getting after much labor what you really don't care for is the bitterest and most ridiculous failure." -George Santayana
I'm from Wichita and many of my friends still live there. What happens to you has more to do with your behavior and the cops mood. A friend of mine was arrested 3 nights ago for a single bag with coke residue. Another person I know (not well enough to call friend) was arrested two weeks ago for broken pieces of a meth pipe. Not even 1/4 of the pipe was found. AND OF COURSE... They will still haul you off for possession of weed no matter how small the amount.
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By the way... Does anybody know how to get sharpie markers off of a computer screen?