TOPEKA — Law enforcement agencies are facing a sharp uptick in violent crimes as the Kansas Bureau of Investigations grapples with a shortage of investigators to support local departments, according to data provided Tuesday to the Joint Committee on Kansas Security.
The number of murders reported statewide increased by 46.5 percent between 2014 and 2016, putting it at the highest level since 2000, according to the KBI. The overall violent crime rate climbed by 15.6 percent with increases in rape, robbery and aggravated assault/battery.
At the same time, the number of agents the KBI staffs has dwindled since 2009, leaving agents overtaxed and forcing the department to shell out overtime pay to try to meet its demands, an official said.
“We currently have twice as many active, open homicides as we do people to investigate them,” KBI executive officer Katie Whisman said. “That’s a threat.”
The KBI has 74 agent positions for the fiscal year that started in July. In 2009, they had 98. The field unit tasked with investigating those homicides has 25 agents.
To keep up with demand, Whisman said the agency has had to take on fewer cases and work agents harder. Between 2012 and 2017, overtime pay expenses increased by more than 700 percent.
“What this tells us is that our suboptimal staffing has forced our diminishing workforce to work more hours in an attempt to keep up with the demands of their casework, and despite their best efforts, we’re not doing that,” Whisman said.
Whisman said the KBI started prioritizing five types of crimes for investigation in 2012, but it cannot always get to all those investigations. Those priorities are homicides and major violent crimes, crimes against children, governmental integrity or public corruption crimes and crimes by criminal enterprises, like drug trafficking networks.
Other requests for assistance get declined, Whisman said, and the number of requests the KBI throws out has increased.
“We certainly miss the days when we had better KBI capacity to support the small agencies,” said Ed Klumpp, a lobbyist who represents several law enforcement associations.
The issue she said was hard for her to stomach is the KBI only has six investigators specially trained for the child victims unit. She said the KBI was now only able to accept Jessica’s Law cases, a law that increases penalties for a narrower subsection of crimes against children.
“Quite simply, we’re running out of people,” Whisman said.
While the KBI is resource-strapped, some local agencies have no official investigators to handle crimes. In 2016, Whisman said those jurisdictions saw 157 aggravated sex offenses. Statewide, there were 1,125. She said that meant at least 13.9 percent of sex offenses theoretically could be going uninvestigated.
Klumpp said local agencies where no one carries the title “investigator,” still have officers capable of doing investigations.
“But some investigations anymore — cybercrimes, human trafficking, the child pornography cases — are cases where you need to have expertise in a particular topic area to be effective in your investigation,” Klumpp said. “It’s very challenging when you can’t get KBI, who has that experience and expertise, to assist you because they’re tied up on a higher priority in violent crime.”
He said the KBI’s declining ability to assist with investigations does raise a concern.
Lawmakers on the joint committee said they were concerned by the KBI’s low capacity. Sen. Steve Fitzgerald, a Leavenworth Republican and committee vice chair, said he thought capacity needed to be increased. Fitzgerald is running for the U.S. House of Representatives seat being vacated by Republican Congresswoman Lynn Jenkins.
Fitzgerald said he thought the uptick in crime was the result of a societal breakdown. He also said he thought declines in burglary and increases in vehicle theft showed people were able to use guns to protect their homes from burglary.
“It’s become too dangerous to steal from someone’s home, so now they’re going elsewhere,” Fitzgerald said.
The burglary rate, however, has steadily declined across the nation, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Fitzgerald said to address violent and drug crime, the state needed more prison capacity and better reintegration resources for prisoners.
Rep. Kevin Jones, a Wellsville Republican and the committee’s chair, said his immediate reaction was the KBI needed more resources, but he said he would like to compare Kansas to other states first.
Klumpp said while he was concerned about the uptick in violent crimes, the overall crime rate was trending downward.
“What we want to do is make sure we have capacity to reverse that before the trend line changes,” Klumpp said.