A member of the citizen review board for police bias complaints in Overland Park resigned under protest this month, shortly before the city council was set to go into closed session to discuss his removal. But many questions remain as to why the council sought to eject him from the board and what grounds were available to them to do so.
Richard S. Kaiser Jr., — who goes by Rick — submitted his resignation “under protest” through his lawyer during the council’s Sept. 9 meeting, and it was accepted without comment from the city. The meeting agenda had announced the council would discuss his removal, but the closed session was cancelled once his resignation was made known. So far no one from the city will comment beyond acknowledging the resignation.
Kaiser is the son of the late Inez Yeargan Kaiser, who was a trailblazer for African Americans. Inez Kaiser gained prominence as a civil rights activist and was the first African American woman to run a public relations firm with national clients. According to her obituary in the Kansas City Star, she was also the first black woman member of the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce as well as an advisor on civil rights issues to Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford.
Until his resignation, Kaiser was one of seven members of Overland Park’s Independent Citizen Advisory Board for Racial Profiling and Non-Biased Policing. He was appointed to a four-year term June 4, 2018. The board meets only once every three months.
Kaiser declined to talk for the record about the specifics that led to his resignation. But he did say, “I broke no laws, broke no rules, broke no policies, broke no procedures.” He was originally invited to join the board by a member of the police department and was vetted by the police chief, city manager, mayor and council, he said.
Police Chief Frank Donchez and Mayor Carl Gerlach issued short, similarly worded responses to an inquiry about the resignation. “Mr. Kaiser resigned his position with the bias board,” was Donchez’s emailed reply.
Few clues as to the possible reasons were available in city and court public records. The bylaws for the board don’t provide a mechanism or grounds to remove a member before his or her term is up. The only requirement is that members must attend at least 75 percent of the meetings. Kaiser was recorded as present for all the meetings since his appointment.
Nor do the minutes during that time suggest any strife with fellow board members. In fact the four board members the Post was able to reach said they had no knowledge about Kaiser’s resignation or about any differences he might have had with the rest of the group.
Board handles oversight, but operations aren’t always transparent
The bias board is an important but little-known facet of the police department. Kansas law requires police departments to report and investigate accusations of bias. Some cities, like Overland Park, Shawnee and Olathe, also have citizen boards that review the complaints and weigh in.
But their findings are less than completely transparent. Board meetings in Overland Park are held at the W. Jack Sanders Justice Center and minutes must be requested. And because it involves a personnel issue, the discussion takes place in closed session. The case is presented by a police investigator, not the complainant.
In the end, the board issues a statement of its views of investigator’s findings.
Not every city has a citizen advisory board, but the ones that do must have at least five members reflecting the diversity of the community, according to Kansas law. Those members also get training in bias-based police training.
Prior to his appointment, Kaiser had his own experience with Overland Park police that caused him to question their potential bias, he acknowledged. Kaiser wasn’t aware of the board’s existence when he received a traffic ticket from Overland Park police in 2015. Had he been, he might have filed his own complaint, he said.
According to court records, Kaiser was ticketed for trying to avoid a traffic backup on U.S. Highway 69 by driving on the shoulder. Comments from the officer, who was not named, said the driver (Kaiser) was upset about the way he was pulled over. Because it appeared Kaiser would go around the police officer, “I got assertive. This did not go over well.” The officer also reported calling for a second unit because Kaiser refused to listen to verbal commands. “Didn’t get a chance to explain the violation well until service because the driver was so upset with me,” the officer wrote.
Kaiser later appealed and the charges were lowered from driving the wrong way on divided highway to inattentive driving. He was fined $100 plus costs after pleading guilty to the lesser charge.
However that experience did not appear related to his resignation.
Board members contacted by the Post generally spoke highly of the police department, saying they believe the board does some good because officers know the complaints will be reviewed by someone outside the department.
In most cases, board members agree with the police investigator, but sometimes they do make additional recommendations on such things as additional training, board members said. “Overland Park is very fortunate in that their police officers are very highly trained,” said Georgia Erickson, former city council member who has been on the advisory board for several years. “Usually it’s a misperception on the part of the people involved,” she said.
Board member Carol Wei also said misunderstanding of police procedures are often at the root of the complaints. Once the officers’ actions are explained, the disagreement is usually resolved, she said.
Member Mahnaz Shabbir noted that the board also discusses other bias-related issues with the department. On the urging of the board, the city recently added a Spanish translation to the website instructions on filing a complaint, she said.