Derek Schmidt’s ‘Back the Blue’ ad campaign

WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) – In the lead-up to the Midterm elections, a growing theme from Republicans is a focus on crime.

A number of ads from Kansas gubernatorial candidate AG Derek Schmidt’s campaign have attacked Governor Laura Kelly’s record and relationship with police.

The ad we’re looking into was paid for by Schmidt’s campaign and features Barton County Sheriff Brian Bellendir.

Claim: “The Defund the Police movement took its toll on law enforcement.”

This claim refers to an NPR article from June 2021. The ad reports on a survey of police departments done by the Police Executive Research Forum, finding an increase in retirements and resignations of police officers.

The article cites the main reason as a response to the national conversation on how to address police abuse of force, racial bias and the role of the police.

The use of “defund the police” needs some defining.

This term grew in popularity after the police killings of George Floyd and other people of color, and the most basic definition seeks the reallocation of police funding to other local departments that are better equipped and trained to handle mental health and homelessness type calls.

Claim: “Kelly called Kansas cops racist.”

We find this misleading and needs context.

For this claim, the ad is pointing to an op-ed Governor Kelly wrote in the Topeka Captial-Journal in June of 2020 about forming the Governor’s Commission on Racial Equity and Justice following the national response to George Floyd’s death.

In there, this is what Governor Kelly wrote: “As Governor, I am committed to ensuring this latest tragedy does not fade into the next news cycle. Communities of color do not have the luxury of time for leaders to ignore these issues any longer. Systemic racism within law enforcement must end.”

The definition of systemic racism isn’t the same as calling someone racist. The term is the acknowledgment of policies and practices within an organization that gives continued advantages to one group, while unfair treatment to another based on race.

It’s important to know when AG Schmidt went before the commission in 2020 and was asked by Mark McCormick of ACLU of Kansas, “To what degree do you think racial bias exists in our system here in the state?”

Schmidt’s answer acknowledged that it was also an aspect of law enforcement.

Schmidt said, “Obviously, it does exist. It exists in human relations. Therefore it exists in the subset of human relations that includes law enforcement interactions with people. I do think that on the whole, at least from my vantage point, I think that law enforcement agencies in Kansas and CPOST as the licensing entity take allegations of improper racial bias or even racial bias that may not result in any improper action but nonetheless is inappropriate, whether it’s implicit or explicit, I think they take that quite seriously.”

After the ad started airing, Schmidt said there was a difference between what he said and what Governor Kelly wrote, and he wasn’t arguing systemic racism in law enforcement.

Claim: “Appointed a left-wing, woke commission to undermine law enforcement.”

The Commission included members of law enforcement – including former Wichita Police Chief Gordon Ramsay – attorneys and other members of the justice system, academics, public health professionals, representatives from local governments and social justice advocates.

They were tasked with studying racial equity and justice in Kansas.

The Commission’s first report looked at policing and law enforcement in Kansas and presented more than 80 recommendations. Those included anti-bias training, alternatives to school resource officers, psychological testing to be certified and increasing diversity in law enforcement.

No legislation has been passed using these recommendations.

The Commission also put together a report that looked at health-related issues,

Claim: “Derek Schmidt is a strong law and order leader who will keep your family safe.”

Here’s what we can tell you. Schmidt has endorsements from the Kansas Fraternal Order of Police, the Kansas State Troopers Association, the National Latino Peace Officers Association, and the National Border Patrol Council. It’s in addition to individual members of law enforcement.

Schmidt has also released a plan of his public safety priorities if elected governor, most dealing with school safety, including more school resource officers and mental health professionals.