TOPEKA — Kansas law enforcement officials urged a Senate panel Wednesday to consider the due process of officers if the Legislature changes a 2004 law aimed at protecting residents from racial profiling.
Ed Klump, lobbyist for Kansas sheriffs, chiefs of police and peace officers, said the groups weren't unhappy with the current law but recognized there were gaps between its provisions and perception among concerned groups.
"We have attempted to present a bill that is not particularly high on our wish list, but one we feel addresses the concerns in a comprehensive and thorough manner with balance between our desires and those of concerned citizens," said Klump, who helped write one of the two bills before the committee.
Among the proposed changes to the 2004 law is the name. Rather than referring to racial profiling, it would be labeled biased policing, a term used by courts and law enforcement. The new definition includes the unreasonable use of race, ethnicity, national origin, gender and religious dress in combination with other factors as part of a specific description as grounds for taking law enforcement action.
Other changes would require community boards to work with law enforcement to prevent biased policing, including measures such as training and data collection. Law enforcement agencies also would be required to have a comprehensive plan for training officers and handling allegations of bias.
The bill would require that biased-policing complaints be investigated by the Kansas Human Rights Commission or the Kansas Commission for Police Standards and Training, the latter of which has the authority to revoke officers' law enforcement licenses.
Steve Bukaty, attorney for the Kansas Fraternal Order of Police, said the new proposals must balance protecting the rights of Kansas residents with the due process of law enforcement officers alleged to commit biased policing. He also said that adding reporting requirements could increase response times between service calls because of an increased workload.
But state Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau said the definition doesn't need to change or its intent will be lost. She said the goal in 2004 was to prevent bias against blacks, who many felt were targeted simply because of their skin color.
"I think it's a step backward," the Wichita Democrat said. "This is a real issue for the people who feel they are racially profiled."
Faust-Goudeau has spoken previously on the issue from her experience as a black woman being stopped late at night while driving through her neighborhood. She contends race was a factor in the traffic stop.
She said if there are concerns about Hispanics or Muslims being targeted by police action based on religion or ethnicity, then Kansas should have a separate law for those instances, but the racial profiling definition should remain.
But not every instance deserves a stand-alone law, said Sen. Tim Owens, R-Overland Park.
Owens said the bill's language was broad enough to encompass a range of instances of bias beyond just race without diluting the importance of the law's intent.
Klump said there are other costs that can't be ignored, such as overtime to complete training. The bill addresses that issue by allowing training over distance learning.
Hearings on the bill were scheduled to continue today.