State commission tackles police reform in Kansas

Capitol Bureau

TOPEKA, Kan. (KSNT) — The topic of police reform is causing controversy across the country. The Kansas Commission on Racial Equity and Justice is studying potential changes in Kansas as well.

The commission was created by Governor Laura Kelly to look at a variety of issues impacting people of color in the state, but the co-chairs of the commission say one of the big topics they are hearing about is law enforcement reform.

With input from law enforcement, the commission is beginning to draft recommendations on possible updates to police training. This includes changes on the material taught, how it’s taught and who it’s taught by.

One of the potential changes to training was a suggestion from the African American Police Association. They asked that training include the history of law enforcement all the way back to the time of slavery. Slave patrols were used to make sure slaves were following the rules, and black officers in Kansas say similar patrols are still happening today.

“They felt like still police officers saw themselves as slave patrollers, no matter what color they were,” explained Dr. Tiffany Anderson, Co-Chair of the Commission on Racial Equity and Justice. “Often, particularly in high minority communities, you may see increased policing and behaviors that you may not see in other communities because of this slave patrol mentality.”

Dr. Anderson says requiring history training could help officers get a better understanding of minority communities.

“To me, you can’t serve who you don’t understand and you can’t serve what you don’t understand and you certainly can’t transform it,” she added.

The commission is also looking at who is teaching the officers during their training and if more diversity can be added there, as well as on police forces in Kansas.

“Right now, we don’t have very good data about what our police forces look like,” explained Dr. Shannon Portillo, Co-Chair, Commission on Racial Equity and Justice. “We actually don’t know what the overall diversity numbers are in the state.”

Dr. Portillo says the commission is hoping to get that data in the future. She adds the commission also wants to encourage officers to continue their education.

“In the state of Kansas, you need a high school diploma or equivalent in order to apply to be a police officer in many jurisdictions. How do we encourage officers to continue their education, since that’s been linked to lower uses of force,” said Dr. Portillo.

The commission’s final report is due by the end of the year. The recommendations will go to the Governor and the Kansas legislature, for any issues that may touch on changes to the state law. Recommendations will also be sent to local municipalities for things that can be implemented right away.

Dr. Anderson wants to remind Kansans, this commissions work does not end with police reform, she says even after the final report is turned in, the commission will continue their work and make sure positive changes are made.

“This is about understanding how we can continue to develop as a state in the areas of equity, inclusivity and how we can transform practices so that we are better tomorrow than we are today,” said Dr. Anderson.

To catch up on previous Racial Equity and Justice commission meetings click here.

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