By Kayla Regan
The Hutchinson News
HUTCHINSON, Kan. — A House bill that would have criminalized anonymous or false complaints against police officers appears to be stalled after a committee hearing Tuesday.
The bill, titled "filing false complaints against a law enforcement officer," was introduced in February by the Committee on Corrections and Juvenile Justice and moved quickly to the Taxation Committee before ending March 13 in the Committee for Transportation and Public Safety Budget. In its one-hour Tuesday hearing, according to the legislative research department, only one person spoke in favor of the bill while eight others, including legislators and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, spoke against it. Darrell Pope, local NAACP chapter president, said the bill would have damaged recent attempts to repair the relationship between law enforcement and people of color in the last years.
"Part of the apprehension or concern is the fact that ... you don't have a mechanism or monitoring agent set up that has fair representation of everybody on it to make a decision on it."
According to the bill, a complaint over a law enforcement officer that a department finds to be false "shall be closed immediately and the law enforcement agency shall seek criminal prosecution against the complaint for perjury." All complaints would be submitted with a signed affidavit that included the time, date, place and nature of the offense. Current law requires that law enforcement departments review all complaints, whether anonymous or signed.
Also included in the bill was a stipulation that an officer would be allowed to see the allegation and evidence against him or her before the investigation begins. Pope said this was harmful, as people have been afraid to come to the police for years with allegations, a reason why he worked with the department several years ago to make complaint reports available in places like the library and NAACP office, 23 E. First Ave.
"People feel when they do that (file a complaint) they put a target on themselves. ... They are already reluctant because they feel they just open themselves up," Pope said.
The one person who testified in favor of the bill Tuesday was Sean McCauley, an attorney for the Kansas chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police and the Kansas State Troopers Association. While he had reservations about allowing departments to pursue charges for unfounded or minor allegations, local FOP President Sgt. Tyson Meyers did see some value in the bill.
"I'd like to protect officers against false allegations," he said, stating officers can be subject to administrative leave following a complaint or suffer from a tarnished reputation even if the allegation is proved to be false.
"At the same time, we should police our own and have the integrity to monitor our department."
Meyers did disagree with one provision of the bill. The last section of House Bill 2698 would have disbarred outside agencies, including the KBI and FBI, from further looking into allegations that a department previously determined were unfounded.
"There are so many small departments out there. We've had plenty of law enforcement officers that have been arrested on criminal or civil cases that, if it wasn't investigated by an outside agency, it wouldn't have been prosecuted," Meyers said.
"I just feel there should be somewhere higher to go than one department."
So far, no further dates have been scheduled to discuss the bill, which has been cited nationally as a "retaliation bill." Following the pieces of legislation that would have made it legal to refuse services to people because of sexuality and harder spanking of children, this is the third bill introduced in 2014 to go cold after receiving national notoriety.
Copyright 2014 The Hutchinson News
McClatchy-Tribune News Service