A two-page legislation viewed as a bill legalizing police retaliation has been introduced in a Kansas House committee and will probably have some residents thinking twice about filing complaints of misconduct against law enforcement officials.
If House Bill 2698 is enacted into law, anonymous complaints against police officers will no longer be acceptable. Moreover, how law enforcement agencies conduct internal investigations could change.
The bill, which was introduced by the House Committee on Corrections and Juvenile Justice, would require that members of the public sign a sworn affidavit to acknowledge that they would be subject to criminal prosecution if their complaint proves false. But that’s not all: the officer being accused won’t be required to answer questions pertaining to the complaint until s/he is given a copy of the document and the related evidence. If no evidence of misconduct is found, then another law enforcement agency won't be allowed to open a separate investigation into the complaint.
Yet, the bill states that nothing contained in it should “discourage legitimate complaints or prevent a law enforcement agency from investigating a complaint made against a law enforcement officer.” Representatives from the committee didn't respond to a request for an interview.
Under the state’s current law, enforcement agencies are required to review all complaints, even anonymous ones. The proposed legislation is already being dubbed a “legalize police retaliation” measure and is being opposed by law enforcement officers and members of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Wichita Eagle reports.
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The newspaper said that Sedgwick County Sheriff Jeff Easter and other law enforcement officials have told lawmakers in the House Transportation and Public Safety Budget Committee that such a legislation would not only obstruct their ability to conduct internal investigations but also raise the level of public distrust for police.
“The sheriff’s office investigates numerous criminal cases, and we do not provide these materials to the interviewee prior the interview,” Easter said. “Thus I do not believe in providing deputies with evidence prior to the interview on alleged misconduct.”
Attorney Sean McCauley, who represents both the Kansas State Troopers Association and the Kansas chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police, testified on behalf of the proposal, saying that the bill isn’t shielding “bad cops,” just “protecting good cops from bad complaints.”
In the eyes of some attorneys outside the state, House Bill 2698 is simply bad policy.
Mike Nisperos, a retired state and federal attorney who has served on both sides of the courtroom in Guam, the U.S. mainland, and in the military, said after reading the bill that its clear purpose is to discourage people from filing complaints.
Nisperos said sworn affidavits aren’t required to initiate a murder investigation or any other criminal investigation. They also aren’t needed to take adverse administrative actions against other civil servants and aren’t required against members of the military “who have a much more dangerous job than the cop on the street,” he added.
Critics of the bill argue that government policies should encourage the public to weed out public servants who aren’t performing up to standard.
“While police officers can have danger in their jobs that does not mean they should have unusual protections against the criticisms of the communities they serve,” said Nisperos, who has served as director of the Oakland Citizens’ Police Review Board. “The thin blue line seems to be getting wider and wider when politicians allow themselves to be dominated and intimidated by police unions. They begin to look more like organized crime-controlled Teamster unions.
“Filing false complaints should be discouraged but not by a means that has a chilling effect on those who would file legitimate complaints,” he added.
Citizen-funded news website Kansas Exposed has reported that some individuals in Wichita already fear making complaints to their police department.