by Ivan Foley
The number of criminal cases being prosecuted in Platte County has dropped by around 14 percent in the past 12 months.
If that statistic strikes you as an eye opener, you’re not alone. Even the prosecutor wasn’t expecting to note that big of a drop when he prepared his annual report to the county commission, an action that is required by state statute.
“I’m pleasantly surprised at the decrease in felonies,” Platte County Prosecutor Eric Zahnd said this week in an interview with The Landmark.
“I’m reluctant to draw any long term conclusions from one year’s worth of data,” he added.
So what are the numbers?
From Nov. 1, 2014 to Oct. 31, 2015, the prosecutor’s office filed 478 felony cases. That’s down from 556 the year before.
As for misdemeanor cases, the prosecutor filed 2,408 of those over the past 12 months. In the year prior to that, 2,781 misdemeanors had been filed.
Zahnd was careful not to declare the latest numbers as evidence that crime is down in the county.
“It could be a blip,” he said.
The drop in misdemeanors is much more easily explained than the drop in felonies, Zahnd says.
“The driving force behind the continuing decline in misdemeanors is in bad check prosecutions. That’s a good thing because it means fewer merchants are being shorted by their customers,” the prosecutor remarked.
The drop in bad check prosecutions is due to technology. So many people have switched to electronic banking and using debit and credit cards as opposed to writing checks, the prosecutor says.
The combined total of felonies and misdemeanor cases filed for the 12 months ending Oct. 31, 2015 was 2,886. That’s a drop from 3,337 in the 12 months prior.
Ironically, the drop in cases filed by his office comes at a time in which Zahnd is asking the county commission to increase the pay of assistant prosecutors in his office for 2016.
There are nine full time assistant prosecutors working under Zahnd and one part-time assistant prosecutor.
Zahnd’s 2016 budget request to the commission asks for a $4,000 raise for each of the nine full time assistants and a $2,000 raise for the one part-time assistant.
The county commission will make a final decision on the 2016 budget in January.
The drop in cases filed does correlate to a smaller caseload per prosecutor than the year prior, but Zahnd in a recent interview with The Landmark said the requested pay raises for assistants are designed to keep the county more in line with what some municipalities, including the city of Kansas City, are paying their assistant prosecutors, as a way of decreasing the potential of staff turnover in the office.