Johnson County forming new task force to combat violent crime, keep teens safe

JOHNSON COUNTY, Kan. —  The Johnson County Sheriff’s Office is keeping a watchful eye on teens.

Next month, the agency is launching a new task force in an effort to stop violent crimes and keep kids and teenagers safe.

The task force was shut down during the recession because of financial constraints, but now Sheriff Calvin Hayden said they’ll fund the relaunch with money from drug investigation forfeitures.

The task force, which doesn’t have a name, will be made of five deputies, a major, sergeant, lieutenant and a captain. There will be some federal agencies involved, according to Hayden.

“We’ve got Miami County and Franklin County are joining in, and we are going to deputize these officers so they have jurisdiction in both of our areas,” Hayden said. “This is an opportunity for us to focus on one area and give them support because individually none of us have got the resources to combat this. But together we do.”

Families affected by recent violent crimes in Johnson County said they support the idea of the task force.

It’s hard for Amy Workman to hold back tears when she talks about her son Ben. The 17-year-old died after he was shot in Overland Park in January.

“I cry most of the time,” Amy Workman said.

Only a week later, someone shot Patti Wehner’s 16-year-old grandson a few blocks away. The teen survived but is now paralyzed.

“He was thrown from a moving car after being shot point blank twice,” Wehner said. “And left for dead on the coldest night of the year.”

And a few days after that, someone stabbed a 16-year-old as he took out the trash.

“It’s not just Overland Park,” Hayden said. “We’ve had drive-bys in virtually every city in Johnson County except DeSoto — 17 different cases. There is gun play going on and we just can`t have it.”

The new task force will specifically combat violent crime. It was in the works before the recent Overland Park crimes involving teens, but Hayden said those are examples of why the task force is necessary.

“I wouldn’t say it’s a catalyst, but it’s a perfect example of why this needs to exist,” he said. “When you look at our kids, I think they`re worth it.”

According to the Johnson County District Attorney’s Office, drug case filings were up 12% last year. Hayden said drugs will be the task force’s focus, with the notion that targeting drugs will stop other crimes.

“There are relatively young kids that cruise around and try to make drug deals,” Hayden said. “They’re armed. They’ve got guns, and they rip off the drug dealers that are selling marijuana.”

Hayden said tips have already started rolling in.

“This is going to be a lot about gathering intelligence, seeing where these guys are doing their business, who their associates are, trying to make a case on them and get them into custody,” Hayden said.

Families affected by violent crime are hopeful the task force will make a difference.

“Addiction is a huge issue in this world, and I don’t think people pay enough attention to that,” Amy Workman said. “So I think that needs to be directly addressed.”

She’s eager for the task force to get to work.

“I think it’s really good,” Workman said.  “Anything to try to stop it.”

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