Kansas Senate guts, kills police transparency bill

Kansas state Sen. Jeff King
Kansas state Sen. Jeff King

We’ve been following this story here at The Watch for several weeks. In Kansas, police agencies aren’t obligated to turn over documents related to search warrants and affidavits and internal investigations. In fact, such documents are presumptively sealed. You have to convince a judge to force the police to release them.

The Kansas couple Robert and Addie Harte spent $25,000 in legal fees trying to obtain the documents that would explain why they were wrongly raided by a SWAT team. (When they finally got the documents, they discovered that the police had mistaken loose-leaf tea in the couple’s trash for marijuana.) Another woman, Joy Biggs, has been unable to obtain any information on why her sister died in a Kansas jail cell after she was arrested for speeding.

It’s one of the strictest such laws in the country. So Kansas state Rep. John Rubin (R-Shawnee) recently introduced a bill that would make such records presumptively available. After passing the Kansas house 113-10, the Kansas senate watered down the bill by removing arrest records from the class of documents covered and putting more restrictions on public access to police records.

My sources in Kansas say these amendments were added at the urging of state prosecutors. They were inserted by Kansas state Sen. Jeff King (R-Independence). King’s Web site boasts that he works “tirelessly as a friend of law enforcement.” He certainly does — to the point of making it nearly impossible for people victimized by law enforcement to obtain any accountability.

Supporters of the bill say King’s amendments have rendered it mostly useless. So Kansas Senate Majority Leader Terry Bruce now says he isn’t going to allow it to come to the floor for a vote. He did leave open the possibility of revisiting the bill if the state house and state senate can iron out the differences about its scope.

Meanwhile, Kansas police agencies will continue to operate in the dark. No transparency. No accountability. In an e-mail this morning, Addie Harte put her reaction rather succinctly: “I am disgusted.”

Radley Balko blogs about criminal justice, the drug war and civil liberties for The Washington Post. He is the author of the book "Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America's Police Forces."
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Radley Balko | March 27