Prosecutors in counties across the country maintain a database of rogue police officers who have come under scrutiny for dishonesty and other misdeeds. But in the Kansas City metro area, only one of five county prosecutors keeps such a list.
A database commonly referred to as a Brady list could help weed out bad cops in the area and shine a spotlight on officers with histories of misconduct.
The Brady list is named for a 1963 Supreme Court decision that requires prosecutors to provide material evidence favorable to the defense. Being on the list can cast doubt on an officer's credibility in court, defense attorneys say.
A higher level of public scrutiny could essentially force out those police officers with a documented history of misconduct.
Of the five county prosecutor offices in the area, only Johnson County District Attorney Steve Howe has such a list. At least 19 officers are on it, Howe said. Only two are still employed as law enforcement officers in Johnson County.
Misdeeds that could land an officer on the list include making false statements or writing false reports, misappropriating property, obstructing an investigation, engaging in discrimination or harassment, accepting bribes or other improper gifts, using unreasonable force or being violent with a family member.
If an officer’s misconduct is germane to a case, prosecutors are unlikely to call that officer as a witness.
“Our agencies have a low tolerance for any type of behavior like that,” Howe said, adding that police disciplinary records are generally exempt from disclosure in Kansas. “It’s beyond my capacity to release those records.”
Prosecutors in Jackson, Cass, Clay and Platte counties say they don’t keep an official list but address Brady issues on a case-by-case basis.
In Missouri, officers' personnel records are exempt from disclosure under the state’s Sunshine Law. But should officers' privacy trump the public's right to know about on-the-job misconduct?
Advocates for greater transparency and accountability argue a police officer’s performance of official duties, as well as discipline imposed for misconduct involving civilians, should not be subject to constitutional protection.
Police unions complain that there is no due process to remove an officer from the list.
Metro-area prosecutors should revise their official policy so that police agencies can send them the names of problem officers with sustained complaints. And those names should be publicly available upon request. Other prosecutors across the country have done just that.
Accountability is an essential part of criminal justice reform. If a problem police officer is still on the force, the public has a right to know.