Proposed bill seeks more transparency after police shootings

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A bill inspired by the fatal police shooting of a 17-year-old in Overland Park would require Kansas law enforcement agencies to change how they handle such shootings.

Under the bill, all law enforcement agencies would be required to have a written policy for investigations when police kill someone. Investigations of the shootings would have to be handled by an outside agency, which would be required to release its investigative report to the public if a prosecutor determines that the officer didn’t commit a crime, The Kansas City Star reported.

State Representative David Benson, a Democrat from Overland Park, said he crafted the bill with the help of Sheila Albers, whose son was fatally shot by police in 2018. It will be introduced after the legislative session begins on Monday.

Many Johnson County departments already have written policies in place and every department uses outside agencies to investigate police shootings. But the provision requiring the release of investigative reports would be a change for the county, Albers said.

“When you have objective factual information then you’re able to train people down the road either to reinforce good decisions or to change bad decisions,” Albers said. “Without the data nobody’s going to learn anything … there’s no way prevent it from happening again.”

Albers said police gave her little information about the investigation into her son’s shooting and a family member’s lawsuit seeking more documents related to the shooting was unsuccessful. The bill would not apply retroactively to Albers’ son’s case.

A month after the shooting, Johnson County District Attorney Steve Howe ruled that the shooting was justified. The officer, Clayton Jenison, resigned from the department.

Howe said he was concerned that rural police departments would find it difficult to hire outside agencies to investigate shootings, and he worried about the privacy implications of the bill.

“I’m not sure it gives enough clarity to law enforcement and prosecutors on what is allowed (to be redacted) and what isn’t,” Howe said.

The bill could require sensitive information about those involved in a shooting to be released to the public, which could make that information available to irresponsible people “who would use it to get more clicks on the internet,” Howe said.

He said police body cameras and dashboard cameras generally provide enough information about the shootings.

However, video collected by police cameras is not an open record in Kansas and is often not released to the public.

Benson said the bill would use the Kansas Open Records Act to determine what sensitive information could be withheld from the public. He also said releasing the investigative report would improve public trust in police and shield officers from accusations of misconduct.