Illegal Searches?

By: Paul Aker
By: Paul Aker

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If you live in Wichita or even drive through the city, you need to know about how the Wichita Police Department does vehicle searches.

The department has a search policy critics say is illegal and clogging the system with bad cases.

Last year alone police impounded or towed more than 6,000 vehicles, which generated more than $8,000 in city revenue.

The Wichita Police Department is keeping us safe, but some say going too far.

Public Defender Christine Gase represented Larry Barry. The W.P.D arrested Barry for driving on a suspended license. Later, police found what they say was methamphetamine in Barry's car, a serious charge.

But the only problem is a district court judge ruled police illegally seized the meth -- ruling they should have never towed Barry's car in the first place.

Kansas' case law says even when police make an arrest, they don't automatically have the right to impound your car and then search it. That cost cops the Barry case and several others.

KAKE On Your Side found a stack of Wichita cases dropped or reduced because a judge believed police searched cars illegally.

Defense Attorney Kurt Kerns says police officials know their search policy goes too far, but continue anyway.

"I have no problem with them going everywhere they need to go to root out illegal activity, what I have a problem with is when they have to break the law to root out illegal activity," Kerns said.

Chief Norman Williams, who declined to go on camera, should know better. KAKE On Your Side has uncovered exclusive internal memos going back to 1999 that show police officials knew impound search policy might be flawed.

A 2001 memo from the City's Law Department to Chief Norman Williams condemning his department's practices said "...the WPD impound policy does not conform with the law on impounding vehicles...I am concerned if the WPD continues to impound cars as the current policy directs, the city may incur some civil liability in addition to the DA's office declining to file criminal charges...assist making the necessary policy changes."

But the department's policy then is the same as it is to this day.

Since KAKE started looking into this issue, police officials have put the policy under review.

The police department impounds cars for many reasons including arrests.

Tow companies that impound cars for the W.P.D give a percentage of their fees back to the city.

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