When a request was made to raise your hand if you’ve been a victim of burglary, District Judge Mike Keeley raised his hand too.
No, judges are not immune to crime. Keeley said one of his employees had also been a victim of a break-in. That’s why he’s an active member of his neighborhood watch program. Neighbors even called him when Keeley’s daughter entered his home when he was away.
“The best thing is a neighborhood watch where people are watching out for each other,” Keeley said.
The lively Citizens Watchdog Association meeting Thursday at the Rosewood Gallery raised interesting questions — and unfortunately not a lot of answers. Great Bend police have recorded more than 55 burglaries since July 2010.
Local citizens prompted lively debate from how much time most burglars will serve in prison to how much force can a home-owner use to protect his personal safety and his property.
Keeley said people are allowed to use reasonable action to protect themselves, but cautioned to not use extreme measures such as chasing down a criminal suspect.
“The best way is to walk away from a possible situation. But you have a right to protect yourself and your property,” Keeley said. “If a suspect was injured, it’s unlikely charges would be filed against a homeowner. A lot of the law is common sense.”
One citizen suggested that it may only be a matter of time before a local homeowner takes action.
“There are a lot of people upset,” one citizen said. “One time, they are going to get caught and they are going to get worked over. There are irate people.”
Keeley suggested that once someone makes the decision to steal from someone else, they enter into a vicious cycle of committing crimes, getting caught, getting probation and starting all over again.
A conviction can cost a suspect several hundred dollars in courts costs and fees. But convicted criminals face a harder time finding a job to repay the fines, making it easier to return to crime.
Judges must rely on sentencing guidelines, which virtually guarantee offenders arrested on thefts under $500 probation. Generally, it requires multiple offenses or felony crimes for a suspect to be sentenced to prison.
“They basically have to be career criminals to go to prison,” Keeley said. “Once you go to prison, they tend to re-offend. I’d rather they spend 30 to 60 days in county jail to see whether they’ve learned their lesson.”
Keeley said in the past judges had more leeway and rules allowed sending someone to prison and bringing them back into court before their term expired.
Now, sentencing guidelines help control the prison population.
“We want judges to sentence to the same guidelines,” he said. “It makes it easier for sentences. It’s a way for the legislature to control the prison population. But the more people you have in prison, the more it costs everyone. That is the main reason the sentencing guidelines have passed.”
Keeley said he also enjoys seeing an occasional success story where a person has worked out of the probation system.
“We have a good probation group in Barton County and we feel good when you see a termination of probation,” he said. “There are positive things that do happen.”
Unfortunately, Keeley often sees some of the same people in court. The court system’s primary goal is to help learn the lesson that crime doesn’t pay.
“The goal for the judicial system is to help reform people, but some people don’t learn,” he said. “Those are the people who end up in prison.”
Keeley said offenders who use and sell methamphetamine are the most chronic repeat offenders.
“Meth is the worst drug I’m aware of. Meth is horribly addictive,” he said.