Gov. Laura Kelly ‘s Commission on Racial Equity and Justice released a set of 60 recommendations for state agencies, local government and the Legislature focused on law enforcement and criminal justice. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)
TOPEKA — A commission tasked with examining race-related issues in Kansas is urging lawmakers to consider changes to police officer training, a ban on no-knock warrants and increased data collection by law enforcement.
The governor’s Commission on Racial Equity and Justice first report included 60 recommendations requiring action from different levels of government. The report was submitted to Gov. Laura Kelly early in December and may be considered in the upcoming legislative session.
In the first of three annual reports, the commission focused its attention on a lack of data within the state and interactions between minorities and law enforcement.
“This first report was really a focus on the criminal justice system and law enforcement because we know that studies have found nationally Black drivers are more likely to be stopped by police than white drivers and 2.5 times more likely to be killed by law enforcement,” said Tiffany Anderson, superintendent of Topeka Public Schools and co-chair of the commission. “We also know that Kansas is not immune to this, so it was with this background with the commission came together.”
In the wake of nationwide calls for criminal justice reform, Kelly formed the commission earlier this year to examine ways in which the state could rectify racial inequalities in the state. The initial report marks what commission members hope will be a significant step toward racially equitable policies in the legislative session this spring.
The report divides recommendations into three categories by entity necessary to enact such policies — local, legislative and state or agency. Recommendations range from budget-neutral policies to those requiring funding or grant programs.
The appointed commissioners, with backgrounds in public health, public education and law enforcement, aggregated recommendations from biweekly commission meetings and conversations with stakeholders. In total, the commission hosted 26 learning sessions with community members and stakeholders.
“We are thankful for the hundreds of community members, law enforcement professionals and all those who took the time to candidly and selflessly present their ideas and expertise to help lead us to become a more equitable state,” Anderson and co-chair Shannon Portillo wrote in the report.
“Through the many hours of virtual meetings, we have learned how dedicated so many fellow Kansans are to do what it takes to create a safer, more trusting, and more inclusive environment for all,” they wrote. “Our work was given deeper meaning and value through their participation and recommendations.”
One of the most noteworthy recommendations is that the state ban officers from entering a home without announcing their presence. The recommendation echoes growing calls to ban “no-knock” search warrants after Breonna Taylor was killed in this manner in her home in Kentucky in March.
States like Oregon, Florida and Virginia have already instituted such bans.
Activists argue no-knock warrants increase the likelihood of excessive force against minorities, but legislators have been cautious to commit to “taking a tool out of the toolbox” for police.
Legislators have signaled they might be more receptive to the recommendation preventing any officer fired for “egregious offenses” from being rehired at a different law enforcement agency.
During a recent presentation by the commission co-chairs to the Legislative Budget Committee, Sen. Carolyn McGinn, a Sedgwick Republican, said similar situations where an officer was fired for misconduct and subsequently hired at a different agency had occurred in her district. The agency said the officer’s track record slipped through the cracks because the agency had not contacted all the various entities that held records on the officer.
To address issues like the one in McGinn’s district, the report recommended sharing of data across agencies.
The commission also recommended expanded training for officers on racial biases and the history of policing.
In accepting the report, Kelly thanked the commission and promised to continue advocating for legislative actions that promote equity and equality.
“I’m proud to see that the commission has engaged with so many diverse communities and stakeholder groups across Kansas to compile recommendations that get to the heart of these issues,” Kelly said. “I implore legislators and law enforcement agencies across the state to take a close look at these recommendations and see how they can create real change for the communities they serve.”
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