Gov. Laura Kelly announced that her Commission on Racial Equity and Justice has released to the public their initial report on law enforcement and policing in Kansas. The report includes more than 60 recommendations on ways that state agencies, the Legislature, and local governments can take action to improve racial equity around law enforcement and policing in the state of Kansas.
The recommendations address topics including law enforcement training, accountability, data collection, and behavioral health.
In June of 2020, Governor Laura Kelly signed Executive Order No. 20-48, establishing the Commission and tasking them with studying issues of racial equity and justice in Kansas. The Commissioners began their work focusing on law enforcement and policing. Per the order, the Commission is to analyze racial equity and justice in the context of various systems in Kansas, such as mental health, education, housing, and economic opportunity. The commission’s second report is due by July 1, 2021.
Over the past five months, the Commission met with dozens of stakeholders, community members, and law enforcement professionals across the state during 26 learning sessions, and collected input for recommendations on improving law enforcement interactions with the communities they serve.
The commission’s recommendations were divided into 11 areas with most areas including actions that could be addressed by local government, by a state agency or requiring legislative action.
Law Enforcement Training
Numerous recommendations in the area of Law Enforcement Training, suggested better trained police officers could make for fairer more just officers. Recommendations included:
• Increasing and improving social equity and anti-bias training for officers.
• Increasing diversity on the staff In the Kansas Law Enforcement Training Center staff.
• Require officers promoted to supervisor to take supervisor’s training.
All three of these recommendations could be implemented by state agencies.
LEO Certification and Standards
• Prohibit fired officers from being hired at different law enforcement agencies.
• Require psychological testing of officers, performed by a licensed professional, before certification.
Both of these actions will require legislative actions.
Recruitment, Retention and Promotion
• Create plans to recruit officers that reflect the communities being policed.
• Encourage promotion and retention of underrepresented groups so that command structures represent the community being served.
• Explore options around increasing officer pay, including salary enhancements tied to degree attainment for law enforcement officers.
All three of these recommendations can be addressed on a local level
•Review and revise policies and training on use of force.
“Authorize only the minimal amount of force necessary to protect citizen and officer safety that is proportional to the incident, that brings an unlawful situation safely and effectively under control, and that preserves the constitutional and human rights of the individual.”
• Implement evidence-based practices related to the use of dashboard cameras and body-worn cameras.
• Law enforcement agencies should review and consider the Bureau of Justice Assistance’s Body Worn Camera Toolkit to assist in implementing BWCs. 25
• Address clear and uniform labeling of law enforcement vehicles.
“When performing traffic enforcement, law enforcement vehicles should be uniformly labeled and clearly identifiable by members of the public, unless the law enforcement agency believes that marking the vehicle would be a danger or detriment to officer or community safety.”
All accountability measures can be addressed locally.
Improving the collection of law enforcement data can enable agencies and communities to evaluate the impact of policing practices and increase police accountability. Without adequate data, it will be hard to prove racial injustice so this was a major recommendation of the commission that would have to be addressed by the legislature.
• Funding should be allocated for the collection of pull-over or stop data from all law enforcement agencies within the state, similar to the program in place in North Carolina.
• Funding should go to development of a web-based data collection portal, so smaller agencies would not have to invest in new data collection software.
• A state agency should be identified to collect and analyze pull-over and stop data in addition to any citation data that is currently collected.
The U.S. Supreme Court has held that the state is obligated to ensure all indigent defendants are provided with effective assistance of counsel. Concerns around a lack of statewide standards for the provision of defense services, along with high caseloads and limited resources, continue to pose challenges for indigent defense. Commission’s specific recommendations in this area were:
• Expand public defender’s offices.
• Fund public defenders on par with local prosecutor’s offices.
Action required by the Legislature is required on Public Defense issues.
Recommendations in the area of justice reform were among the strongest in the report.
• Adopt recommendations from the Pretrial Justice Reform Task Force.
A Pretrial Justice Reform Task Force report to the Kansas Supreme Court was issued in November and related mostly to bail, bond, and other pretrial justice issues. An article on that report “Can’t Make Bail, You’ll Sit in Jail,” was in the Nov. 6. 2020 issue of The Community Voice.
• Require that defendants be fairly represented at bond hearings.
• Driver’s licenses should not be suspended for failure to pay fines and fees.
• Adopt recommendations from the proposed federal JUSTICE Act and/or Justice in Policing Act elated to no-knock warrants.
• Require reporting on where and why no-knock warrants are used.
• Ban no-knock warrants in drug cases at the local and state level.
• The Legislature should continue to research and review civil asset forfeiture and recommend a process that builds public trust.
• Study and address technical probation violations.
Technical probation violations, often related to drug use, are driving incarceration rates in the state of Kansas.
•Enforce laws that a court cannot strike a juror based on race by prohibiting practices that imply racial bias (Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986)), such as clothing or body language, to create a more diverse, representative, and balanced jury.
All of these justice system reforms would require legislative action.
School Resource Officers
The Commissioners didn’t appear fond of SROs
• Explore alternatives to SROs, such as counselors.
• Revise training requirements for SROs to include implicit bias training and ongoing requirements.
• Evidence-based programs, such as restorative justice practices, should be utilized along with or instead of SROs in school districts experiencing conflict.
These SRO are actions that can be implemented locally.
Despite reporting a lower prevalence of substance use disorder than their White counterparts, Black and Brown communities’ data shows these groups experience greater problems associated with substance use, such as legal issues, justice system involvement, and social consequences. Because of this disparity, the Commission recommended behavioral health interventions in lieu of, or to supplement, law enforcement intervention:
• Expand Medicaid to provide mental health and other health care coverage to populations currently not covered.
• Support and finance the use of mobile crisis response models, including co-responder and virtual co-responder models to assist law enforcement in responding to behavioral health calls and stops.
Of the more than 60 items recommended by the Commission, just over half of them require some degree of legislative approval – funding or law changes – to implement. However, just short of half of the recommendations can be addressed with simple policy and procedure changes, often within local police departments or within state agencies.