Kansas House panel advances bill to open police affidavits to public

Kansas could be headed toward greater openness regarding police department’s reasons to execute arrests and search warrants.

The House Judiciary advanced House Bill 2555 on Monday. The bill opens up affidavits used by police to justify arrest warrants as public records.

The bill also opens up affidavits of probable cause for search warrants but only to the party involved. So if police search your house, you can demand to see documentation of their reasons within 30 days.

The records are presumptively sealed in Kansas, which sets the state apart from the majority of the country, according to Rep. John Rubin, R-Shawnee, the bill’s sponsor and a former federal judge. Rubin hopes this will lead to greater transparency from law enforcement.

“I just think that in the interest of public accountability and transparency that prosecutors and law enforcement should be held to the same standard as all other government officials and employees,” Rubin said.

The bill allows prosecutors to seal the records if there are legitimate law enforcement reasons.

“Kansas really is an outlier in this area,” Rubin said. He contrasted the state against Missouri and distributed to the committee an arrest warrant affidavit for a murder case, which was made available to the public one day after the arrest.

“Missouri obviously thinks it’s sound public policy,” Rubin said. “And so do I.”

In a hearing held earlier this month, several district attorneys raised concerns that opening the records could put the safety and privacy of victims and witnesses at risk. The bill as amended allows prosecutors to seal or redact the records if releasing them would jeopardize “the safety or well-being” of a victim or witness.

Rep. Jan Pauls, D-Hutchinson, an attorney, raised concerns about opening affidavits related to arrests. She raised concerns about the costs of redactions.

“I just think there’s a lot of unanswered questions regarding how we handle that,” Pauls said.

Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett raised concerns about implementation at a hearing earlier this month. In an email on Monday, he elaborated on his concerns.

He noted that Sedgwick County filed 5,000 affidavits last year and that if all of these documents were made public by default it would cost time and money.

Bennett suggested that people should have to give a notice that they want a record before it is opened “to allow prosecutors a reasonable amount of time to make what I think are required redactions in cases the press or citizens are actually interested in opening.”