Governor’s commission seeks added diversity in Kansas police training, hiring practices

By: - August 20, 2020 6:42 pm
The Commission on Racial Equity and Justice, which meets every other week, is charged with making recommendations to the governor, Legislature and local governments. (Noah Taborda/Kansas Reflector)

The Governor’s Commission on Racial Equity and Justice, which met every other week, was charged with making recommendations to the governor, Legislature and local governments. (Noah Taborda/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — A leader of Gov. Laura Kelly’s Commission on Racial Equity and Justice on Thursday called for refreshed police training programs focused more squarely on historical context and the role of police in perpetuating inequalities.

Shannon Portillo, associate dean for academic affairs at the University of Kansas Edwards campus, suggested every officer take a history class during training.

“The history of policing is really important, as is making sure that folks coming into the force have an understanding of some of the inequalities police forces may have created in the past,” Portillo said.

Commissioners met Thursday to begin mapping their first report to the governor. Portillo, who serves as co-chairwoman, and several other commissioners voiced a desire to see law enforcement diversity addressed in training and its ranks.

Other points of interest for the report include data collection, school resource officers, the justice system, tribal jurisdiction and immigration-law enforcement relationships.

The commission plans to compile suggestions from bi-weekly meetings and complete a draft report with more concrete ideas in November. The report will be submitted to the governor by Dec. 1.

Sedgwick County District Judge Monique Centeno advocated for a more thorough focus on training in understanding cultural differences. She also suggested adding more instructors of color to give these lessons.

“At a recent meeting I attended on law enforcement training, all the instructors were Caucasian,” Centeno said. “It’s a problem if everyone teaching cultural training looks the same.”

Suggestions for how to carry this out include looping in the University of Kansas. Brandon Davis, an assistant professor for KU’s School of Public Affairs and Administration, said the school already has a significant base of professors and researchers studying race and ethnicity ready to do this training.

Davis said diversity within the ranks of the police force also should be addressed.

“They need to have a plan where they are actively recruiting minorities, and we need to tear down barriers keeping minorities from enlisting,” Davis said.

Davis proposed waiving residency restrictions, which limit employment to those within city limits, if the hiring is necessary for diversity reasons. Several law enforcement officers he had spoken with cited this restriction as an obstacle in hiring minorities.

Ernestor De La Rosa, assistant city manager of Dodge City, suggested amending a Kansas statute that only allows citizens to be police officers. The change would allow a large Latino community in Dodge City to enroll in the police force, he said.

“They allow green card holders to serve in the U.S. military, so why not here in Kansas?” De La Rosa said.

Jackson Winsett, of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, suggested a chief diversity officer be appointed to oversee all police agencies, something he had heard at a listening session. Doing so would allow for a more uniform approach to diversity hiring and training, he said.

“We need our officers to feel and understand more of the challenges these communities face so they can police better and be better members of the community,” Winsett said.

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Noah Taborda
Noah Taborda

Noah Taborda started his journalism career in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Missouri, covering local government and producing an episode of the podcast Show Me The State while earning his bachelor’s degree in radio broadcasting at the University of Missouri School of Journalism. Noah then made a short move to Kansas City, Missouri, to work at KCUR as an intern on the talk show Central Standard and then in the newsroom, reporting on daily news and feature stories.