Go Ahead and Beat Your Wife, and Other Dumb Budget Cuts

Topeka can't to pay to prosecute those crimes; Newark has stopped buying toilet paper

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The City of Topeka has floated the idea of legalizing domestic violence, not because beating up women is no big deal, but because the city doesn't want to pay to prosecute it. The crime used to be prosecuted by Shawnee County district attorney Chad Taylor, but after his budget was cut by 10 percent -- $347,756 -- the office says it won't prosecute any misdemeanors, including domestic violence cases. Topeka wants to change his mind by legalizing the crime and force Taylor, who had pledged back in 2009 to "aggressively prosecute domestic violence" and "review domestic violence cases as a first priority," to take the cases again. But, his spokesman told The Topeka Capital-Journal's Angela Deines, "Our situation isn't what it was in 2009 in regard to funding ... Limited resources have forced us to determine what we're statutorily required to do."

This budget brinksmanship has, of course, led to outrage among advocates for the victims of domestic violence (who point out that already 30 victims have been turned away by prosecutors while 16 people arrested for the crime have been released since the standoff started on Sept. 8). But with government spending shrinking across the nation -- it's worth pointing out that today's unemployment figures for September showed that while private companies added 137,000 jobs, there were 34,000 government jobs eliminated last month -- the tempest in Topeka is hardly alone in the sometimes shocking, stupid or self-defeating budget cuts that state and local governments are making to deal with shrinking budgets. There are tons, and these are some of the worst:

Most Shocking: Alameda, California, police and firemen watch a man drown because budget cuts meant they didn't have water rescue certifications.
In May, KGO-TV's Alan Wang reported that when a suicidal man walked neck-deep in the 60-degree waters off Crown Beach in Alameda, a crowd -- including cops and firemen -- stood for an hour and a half and watched until he drowned. "The Alameda Fire Department says budget constraints are preventing it from recertifying its firefighters in land-based water rescues," Wang explained. "Without it, the city would be open to liability." Alameda Police Lt. Joe McNiff told him, "We're not trained to go into the water, obviously the type of gear that we have on, we don't have the type of equipment that you would use to go into the water." Eventually a woman in her 20s swam out and brought back the man's lifeless body. The city has since changed its rules.
Most Dangerous: Alto, Texas lays off its entire police force.
Alto, a small town of 1,200, furloughed its entire police force for six months in June. The city was facing a budget shortfall of $185,000, The Wall Street Journal's Ana Campoy reports, and the police cost $230,000. Police chief Charles Barron told the Journal that it was a bad time to get rid of cops: the local crime rate is higher than the state average, and it's going up. "Everybody's talking about 'bolt your doors, buy a gun,' " Mayor Monty Collins said.
Grossest: Coney Island, New York, begins rationing toilet paper; Newark quits buying toilet paper for government employees. 
Coney Island is not known for being pristine, but the beach got a lot grosser in July, when the New York parks department began rationing toilet paper in the ladies' rooms. Women had to stand in line to get a few squares of single-ply, the New York Post reported. Newark Mayor Cory Booker announced he was eliminating every unnecessary item from the city budget. Somewhat surprisingly, toilet paper fell under that category. Civic-minded New Jersey TP companies offered some relief, donating tens of thousands of rolls to city employees, the Newark Star-Ledger reported.
Saddest: New York shelters stop looking for lost pets.
New York City animal shelters stopped taking reports of lost dogs and cats in December 2010, citing the time and effort it takes staffers to comb the shelters for runaways. That means a lot of lost pets could be put to sleep before their owners find them, the New York Daily News reports.
Most Annoying: Cuts to San Francisco court system means it will take a year and a half to get a divorce.
San Francisco plans to close 24 courtrooms, cut clerk hours, and fire 175 staffers this fall, The New York TimesJesse McKinley reports, meaning all kinds of civil matters will take much longer. Couples who hate each other will be forced to be at least legally connected for 18 months before a divorce is finalized.
Best for Stoners and/or Libertarians: Budget cuts effectively legalize drugs in Georgia
Complaining over cuts that have resulted in eliminating Georgia State Patrol cars at night, shutting down crime labs, and layoffs at the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, the distict attorney in Thomson, Ga., said at a conference, "In effect we have legalized drugs in Georgia," Bill Norton reported for The Augusta Chronicle
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.