The Citizens Watchdog Association, created in response to a rash of burglaries in Great Bend, is urging its members to attend a burglar’s sentencing in Barton County District Court — whenever it may be.
Watchdog committee chairman Brock McPherson invited people on the group’s e-mail list to mark their calendars for Aug. 26 because "the burglar who is responsible for a number of the burglaries is scheduled to appear before the District Judge (Hannelore Kitts) for sentencing."
Christopher Allen Harman, Great Bend, appeared before the court on June 16 and entered a "no contest" plea to multiple charges stemming from his criminal activity on Oct. 22-23, 2010. The court found him guilty and ordered a pre-sentencing investigation. The sentencing was scheduled for late August but has since been rescheduled to 1:30 p.m. on Sept. 6.
The court found him guilty of two vehicular burglaries and of unlawfully taking a 1998 Chevrolet S-10 pickup. Along with these felonies, he was found guilty of two misdemeanors for taking property worth less than $1,000 — a purse from one victim and a digital camera, cosmetics and financial cards from another.
In exchange for Harman’s pleas, the Barton County Attorney’s Office dropped the most serious charge, possession of hydrocodone, a Level 4 drug felony. The state also dropped two more vehicular burglary charges, three misdemeanor theft charges with different victims, and a misdemeanor charge of criminal damage to property.
Harman took the plea bargain knowing he’ll be sentenced on other 2010 cases of theft and burglaries of non-residences, and that under state sentencing guidelines he can expect to go to prison. Watchdog Association members believe justice in this case does not include automatic probation.
"We need to send a message to the other burglars who continue to victimize us that they have to pay for their crimes," McPherson said. A strong turnout from burglary victims will help, he added. "The county attorney’s office has indicated they really need victims of these crimes in the courtroom at the sentencing."
Since 2010 when the Citizens Watchdog Association was formed, there have been over 80 burglaries in McPherson’s neighborhood, roughly described as being bordered by 16th St. on the north, Harrison on the west, Forest Ave. on the south and Washington on the east. The group’s meetings are open to anyone who is concerned about burglaries.
The association has had several meetings, hearing from Police Chief Dean Akings, County Attorney Douglas Matthews and District Judge Mike Keeley, among others. Students and instructor Randy Smith from the Criminal Justice program at Barton Community College did demonstrations on home protection and reviewed the data on the burglaries in the Watchdogs’ neighborhood.
"All of it has been very eye opening. People were used to leaving their doors unlocked and their garage doors open," McPherson said.
One conviction won’t solve the problem. There have been more burglaries since Harman’s arrest, and a lot of stolen property hasn’t been recovered. McPherson believes evidence indicates Harman had at least one accomplice.
The Citizens Watchdog Association continues to be active, even though it isn’t holding monthly meetings this summer.