SOUTHERN INDIANA — Prosecutors say the first year of a partnership between Southern Indiana and Jefferson County, Ky., has already shown marked improvement in charging defendants with cases in multiple jurisdictions.
The Kentucky Indiana Prosecutors Alliance (KIPA) was formed last spring between state and commonwealth attorneys from Clark, Floyd and Jefferson counties — to strengthen lines of communication among the three in determining how to best file charges and handle cases for optimum public safety.
If a person is arrested or facing charges in one of the three areas, prosecutors from that county will first research any other pending cases from the others, then reach out to the other offices to start talks on whether or not the charges should involve coordinated prosecution, such as in higher level crimes.
If it does, a point person from each office collaborates on things like scheduling hearing dates to avoid conflicts, talking about whether a plea should be offered on multiple cases, or determining whether to proceed to trial with all, for instance.
"That communication link is now set up," Floyd County Chief Deputy Prosecutor Chris Lane said. "So if I have a case, I can call Jefferson County and talk to a specific person that knows me and we can discuss the active cases that are going on.
"That active communication is key."
The program was initiated by Floyd County Prosecutor Keith Henderson, who saw a need for more focused efforts on coordination, and to reduce transportation costs of incarcerated defendants, he said at a news conference last year.
Henderson then went to his counterparts — Clark County Prosecutor Jeremy Mull and Jefferson County Office of the Commonwealth's Attorney Tom Wine. Both were on board.
"It's a very good working relationship that we've been able to improve upon since we started KIPA," Mull said. The partnership does not put any extra cost on taxpayers.
According to data reported to the state by the county, Clark County had a total of 6,561 new criminal cases filed in 2017, and 5,720 in 2018. Floyd County prosecutors filed 2,869 new criminal cases in 2017 and 2,443 in 2018.
But these don't necessarily represent individuals — prosecutors in both counties say they get cases every week where the defendant is either from another area or has charges in multiple counties.
"What we have found is that crime has no borders," Lane said. "And we're in a unique situation ... that we have a metropolitan area that's in a border with a river between it.
"So you have a lot of people moving back and forth and sometimes these people who commit crimes within these jurisdictions have utilized that to their benefit ... so they'll go to one side or the other with the intent of avoiding accountability."
Clarksville Police Chief Mark Palmer confirmed that his department makes a substantial number of arrests of people who live outside Clark County — either through warrants issued by other jurisdictions or warrantless arrests.
Part of that, he said, is due to the draw to Clarksville's commercial districts — areas visited by people, many of whom are non-Clarksville or even Clark County residents.
"We get quite a bit of traffic over here from Kentucky because we're a business district," he said. "People come over here to the restaurants, shopping centers."
Prosecutor Mull, in Clark County, said the intent of the program is to focus more on higher-level crimes — such as armed robberies, strangulation or battery — which may be repeating in multiple counties.
"[These are] cases where we feel like someone is a danger to the community and we need to coordinate to get the best result possible for public safety," he said.
Since state laws vary between Indiana and Kentucky, as well as how departments operate, part of the unique challenges to prosecuting defendants who may commit crimes across state lines is understanding how each area works.
That's why prosecutors involved in KIPA are working to expand their knowledge of one another, to help build lasting relationships.
In June, the first KIPA summit was held at the University of Louisville, a one-day conference attended by around 50 state attorneys from Indiana and Kentucky.
"It was a very successful event," Mull said. "The prosecutors all came away knowing much more about how the criminal process works in the other jurisdictions. I think that ultimately made everyone more effective on collaborating on these cases."