Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Follow-up on Public Safety

We had a long discussion today on public safety, and the recent, horrific murder of Esme Kenney. While it does not appear that the County was directly involved, all of us in government have a responsibility to get to the bottom of it, and ensure that this never happens again in our community, and that our citizens--and children in particular--are safe.

A couple steps we will be taking:

1. Prosecutor Joe Deters and I talked, and in addition to prosecuting the case, his office will be conducting an analaysis of each stage the alleged defendant took in the criminal justice process. This will examine which and when critical mistakes were made to allow such a dangerous person to be on the street. We will then work to ensure such mistakes can and do not happen again.

2. Todd Portune is working on a letter that will push our state leaders to require a far more stringent chain of custody requirement for dangerous offenders such as this, so they do not fall through the cracks.

3. City Council has drafted a letter to the Governor asking that the VOA Pogue Center be shut down. From what we know so far, I agree with them. I understand the Enquirer's caution not to react hastily or short-sightedly. And generally, I'd rather have predators such as this monitored in a well-run facility rather than roaming the streets if/when they have completed their sentence. (Although I think we should have NO facilities "importing" offenders from outside the County, and have previously made that clear).

But some mistakes are so egregious, so colossal, display such bad judgment, and carry such horrific consequences, that there must be true accountability. In my book, when the consequences are clearly so potentially dangerous, failing to release someone who had this egregious history and high-risk potential in a way that guarantees a smooth and safe handoff is one of those mistakes. Just like some acts are "fireable" offenses, the apparent failure here is the same. And imposing real accountability in this case will send a loud and clear message to other such facilities that breakdowns such as this are beyond the pale. Such accountability may be the best way to ensure a mistake like this never happens again.

4. Whether or not they were directly involved, all governments in the corrections/custody business must ensure that they have a system that guarantees that when a dangerous predator such as this is in their custody, they will never release them, knowingly (of course) or even unintentionally. It's no secret that after the failure of our Comprehensive Safety Plan, the Sheriff must unfortunately conduct "stationhouse releases"--which he has had to do at various times over the years. We must ensure that when the Sheriff does release offenders through this process, there is a risk assessment done, and an examination of their criminal history, before release (as opposed to just looking at the most recent criminal charge, which can conceal a far more dangerous background and potential). We must apply the same rigorous release standards across the board (to government and non-profit facilities alike).

5. Finally, a story over the weekend highlighted the shortage of electronic monitoring units in our county system. These EMUs can play a very positive role in relieving jail overcrowding, and reduce the number of releases. We will look to use stimulus dollars to both purchase new EMU units, and to pay staff sufficient to monitor and manage those new units. I have also asked several councilmembers to have the City consider doing the same.


Quim said...

Seems to me, the VOA should have, somehow, locked Kirkland down after he assaulted another guy, alerted authorities and held him until some governmental agency could take him to another facility.
Is an NGO allowed to do this ?

Anonymous said...

Keep in mind that NO system can guarantee anything or anyone's safety. It is foolish to assume that this can be. Just as no one can guarantee that you will survive a car crash even with all of the safety equipment that car manufacturers are FORCED to put in place.
Nothing in life is guaranteed, except for death of course.

Anonymous said...

When the Sheriff releases someone who then commits a horrific crime, will you publicly support shutting down the Justice Center? Under your theory of responsibility it seems consistent

Anonymous said...

I'm disappointed. You've been leading the county on evidence-based criminal justice. And now you're caving to the hysteria? Is Cecil Thomas the only politician in town with a level head and some backbone? Have you listened to Esme's father?

Anonymous said...

I'm confused. Being in favor of rehabilitation and evidence-based work is not inconsistent with demanding accountability. Indeed, those who support rehab, and want to sustain and expand it, should be more for accountability than anyone.

Anonymous said...

The human spirit is amazing. The family of this victim does not want the VOA facility to close. Rather than shut down a facility that may be doing some good, we should demand change, and think about financial incentives when some or many parts of the criminal justice system does not think beyond its own nose. If we are to be responsive to this victim and her family, all parties in the justice system need to review their role in this whole horrible incident. Taking responsibility, targeting change, and working together as an informed criminal justice community will reduce (maybe never, but signifcantly reduce) these types of incidents.

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