A bill submitted anonymously in the Kansas state Senate would make it a crime for citizens to falsely report misconduct.
HB 2698, introduced to the Committee on Corrections and Juvenile Justice, requires individuals to sign a sworn affidavit explaining their allegations of police misconduct, and mandates that the officer in question be provided with a copy of the complaint and “be made fully aware of any facts related to the allegation contained in the complaint.” In addition, the bill demands that those bringing forward false accusations be charged with perjury.
It does not specify any protections for complainants, yet claims that “nothing contained in this section shall be construed to discourage legitimate complaints or prevent a law enforcement agency from investigating a complaint made against a law enforcement officer.”
Statistics from Wichita suggest that the law as framed could ensnare many complainants with felony charges. The police department of Wichita has ruled that 100 of 100 recent racial profiling accusations were “false reports,” according to Kansas Exposed. The complaint reporting system for Wichita and Topeka, two of Kansas’ most populous cities, currently entail a chain of command that starts with a professional standards unit and proceeds to the chief of police.
Though cases of false accusations against police certainly exist, past evidence suggests that suppression of complaints is a far more pressing issue. Last year, an independent report put the Denver Sheriff’s Department under scrutiny for allegedly choking, sexually harassing and racially slurring inmates. Yet only 54 of 5,979 complaints produced determinations of severe police misconduct.
In Chicago, merely 19 of 10,149 complaints of excessive force, illegal searches, racial abuse, sexual abuse and false arrests resulted in police suspensions of at least a week, a 2007 study found. Last week, a state appeals court ruled that the Chicago Police Department must disclose records of police misconduct, in a move that advocates are hopeful will foster greater police accountability.