The McPherson County attorney, and city and county government officials recently sparred over a change in how affidavits are handled.
The McPherson County attorney, and city and county government officials recently sparred over a change in how affidavits are handled. Affidavits are formal written statements setting out the facts of cases. In McPherson County, these statements had been written by attorneys in the county attorney’s office. However, the U.S. Supreme Court has said for years law enforcement officers need to fill out affidavits and not attorneys. Decisions to file criminal cases are based on the facts contained in these affidavits. Requiring law enforcement officers to fill out these crucial documents makes sense. Law enforcement officers are the ones who investigate the crimes, gather evidence, interview victims and witnesses, and view the crime scenes. However, the timing of County Attorney David Page’s request did not make sense. This change will significantly affect the workflow and workload at the both the McPherson Police Department and McPherson County Sheriff’s Department. New equipment will need to be purchased, and the police department has indicated it will have to revise its plan for staffing. The cost of the switch-over for the city, including equipment and supplies, for the duration of 2012 has been estimated at $15,000. In 2013, those costs would jump to $16,700. Additionally, an administrative position that had been planned for reduction next year will have to be retained in order to handle the workload. In total, the cost to the city would be $62,700, or almost half a mill. While the sheriff’s department hasn’t had the opportunity to estimate total costs, Sheriff Larry Powell informed county commissioners the department would have to hire an extra administrative position to handle the affidavits. The projected cost for that position, with salary and benefits, is between $40,000 and $50,000. Page did not make this request until after the city had published and approved its budget for 2013. Once a budget has been published, it can not be increased without the budget being reconsidered and republished. The county also was not informed about the requested change until right before its budget was set to be approved. Both the county and the city are now faced with cutting from other programs in attempts to fund the additional costs to law enforcement for writing affidavits. Page’s presentation of policy change so late in the budgeting process will have significant budgetary repercussions on both the city and the county. Page’s explanation that he was unaware of the timing of the budget decisions just doesn’t fly. The budgeting cycles for both the city and county come around at the same time every year — information that is readily available to any member of the general public. The change to the affidavit system should improve the ability of the county’s attorney’s office to prosecute cases and give law enforcement officials more ownership of their cases. Page’s request is reasonable, but his request was very poorly timed.