Kansas Legislative Committee Pushes Bill That Would Make It A Felony To File False Complaints Against A Police Officer
from the a-short-bill,-broken-all-over dept
How can you tell if an introduced bill is a bad piece of legislation? Well, there are several indicators to look for -- overly broad language, written as a reaction to a recent tragedy -- but when a bill is referred to as the "retaliation bill" by a large majority of the press, the problems are right there on the surface. (h/t to Techdirt reader Rekrul)
The Kansas legislature's Committee on Corrections and Juvenile Justice recently introduced a bill with some very chilling implications for citizens.
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…This bill, currently stalled, would make it a felony to file a false complaint against a police officer, something that used to be handled via civil litigation. And there would be no option for filing anonymous complaints, which would further discourage the reporting of alleged police misconduct.
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.
In addition, officers would be allowed to view the complaint and any related evidence before making a statement, giving accused officers a chance to craft narratives before issuing statements that might be contradicted by the evidence submitted. The complaint's lack of anonymity would give accused officers the name, address, phone number, etc. of their accuser, something that could easily lead to harassment. (Of course, law enforcement agencies could strip this information before presenting it to the accused officer [the bill contains no stipulation to do so], but how many here believe that would actually happen -- or that the information couldn't be accessed otherwise?)
Also problematic is the fact that the bill stipulates that "no other law enforcement agency" can open an investigation on a complaint if another agency has performed an investigation and found no evidence of wrongdoing. This would keep all investigations "in-house," which greatly contributes to the likelihood that complaints will be found false (and subsequently, result in felony charges against the filer). This would prevent agencies like the FBI and DOJ from investigating closed complaints to see if anything was missed or covered up. This stipulation would further insulate police from accountability.
The bill is so bad even the attorney for the local police union (the entity that usually works hard to restore bad cops to their former positions) found the wording somewhat problematic.
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.He also added that it was a bad idea to limit complaint investigations to one department, noting that previous investigations by outside agencies had led to the rooting out of bad cops who otherwise would have gone unpunished.
"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."
As it stands now, the bill is effectively dead. The coverage of the bill has been universally negative, and after its nearly one-sided showing during its floor appearance, no further discussions on the bill have been scheduled. The question remains as to why such a bill, loaded with negative side effects for the public, was ever introduced, as well as who exactly is behind it. The committee page lists several names, but the bill's sponsor is the committee itself, rather than a certain legislator. Safety in numbers applies to bad legislation, it seems. The bill seeks to out anonymous complainants, but has been shepherded into the public forum by no one in particular.