House bill on anonymous complaints hits big hurdle

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A proposal that would eliminate anonymous complaints against police officers hit a snag Tuesday in the Kansas House when law enforcement leaders and the NAACP said the measure would erode the public’s trust in police.

The measure before the House Transportation and Public Safety Budget Committee would require anyone submitting a complaint against a law enforcement officer to sign an affidavit, The Wichita Eagle (http://bit.ly/1iCbjbg ) reported. Anyone who files a complaint that is determined to be false could be held civilly and criminally liable.

The proposal would prohibit other law enforcement agencies from conducting their own investigations if a complaint already has been ruled false by the original agency. Also, officers would be given a copy of complaints filed against them and be allowed to review video and other evidence before they were interviewed by investigators.

Sedgwick County Sheriff Jeff Easter and law enforcement leaders from Johnson and Riley counties said the measure would hamper their ability to conduct internal investigations.

“The sheriff’s office investigates numerous criminal cases, and we do not provide these materials to the interviewee prior the interview, thus I do not believe in providing deputies with evidence prior to the interview on alleged misconduct,” Easter said.

Only one person, Sean McCauley, spoke in favor of the bill. He is an attorney who represents both the Kansas State Troopers Association and the Kansas chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police.

“We’re not seeking to protect bad cops. We’re seeking to protect good cops from bad complaints,” McCauley said.

Tammie Lord, chief legal counsel for the Kansas Highway Patrol, said the bill was vague and didn’t make a clear distinction between false complaints and ones that were determined to be unfounded.

Committee chairman Virgil Peck, a Tyro Republican, asked Easter and Lord if the bill could be salvaged in any way to address their concerns, to which they responded it could not.

Other opponents, including the Kansas chapter of NAACP, raised concerns that the bill targets black people.

Brenda Fox, a Wichita resident whose complaint against the Wichita Police Department for racial profiling is being investigated by the Kansas Human Rights Commission, said the bill would increase mistrust between police and minorities.

“Officers have absolute power in the streets. This absolute power emboldens the officer and diminishes the citizen,” said Fox, who was a police officer for nine years but now works as an administrator at Southwestern College. “This bill would exacerbate this power disparity.”

The committee took no action on the measure.

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Information from: The Wichita (Kan.) Eagle, http://www.kansas.com

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