A long-awaited report on the Lawrence Police Department says the local force is competent and well-trained but calls for updated policies on when police should use their firearms and for improved community relations.
The report says the department should use public forums and other means to routinely inform the public of its policies and operations and it also calls for the department to develop a specific policy for handling domestic disturbance calls.
Ron Olin, Lawrence's police chief, said today he was impressed with the recommendations and didn't disagree with any although he said some could be expensive.
For example, the report recommends installing a "computer-aided dispatch" system, which could cost as much as $450,000, to assist officers in making calls, Olin said.
The 22-page report, which also lists a variety of other policy, training and community relations recommendations, was completed this month by the Lawrence Police Peer Review Committee.
The peer review came after the April 21, 1991, police shooting of Gregory Sevier, a 22-year-old local Native American. Sevier was shot by police after they had been called to his home in East Lawrence. Police said they fired when Sevier, who had a knife, lunged at an officer.
A coroner's jury, called to review the case, ruled that the shooting was justified.
THE CONTROVERSY and criticism of the police department that followed prompted the city commission to form the review board, which includes law enforcement representatives, a Haskell Indian Junior College professor, a Kansas University law professor and KU's general counsel.
Copies of the panel's report were distributed to Lawrence city commissioners Thursday. The commission is expected at its Tuesday night meeting to set up a study session to review the report, said Dave Corliss, the city's management analyst.
The peer review panel's chairman, Darrel Stephens, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum in Washington, D.C., and a former assistant police chief in Lawrence, said today that overall, the panel found Lawrence's police department to be well managed, but needing some improvements.
"We approached our task with the idea that our goal was to make a good police department better," Stephens said. "There's clearly some updates and things that need to be done. . . . We felt there has been interest from the community and from the city commission over the years and we felt this was a healthy, productive process."
Stephens said one of the recommendations is to update the department's policies on the use of force, including specifically when to discharge firearms.
THE REPORT also calls for the police department to inform the public about its policy on use of force, how it was developed, how it compares with other police departments, how it is reviewed and why it is necessary.
"We felt there was certainly room for improvement on the policies on the use of force," Stephens said. "We provided examples of other police department policies that are considered to be good policies by people in the field."
He said the local police policies on deadly force need updating, mainly because local officers have rarely had to use their firearms in the last 15 years.
"In as much as it is a rare occurrence, the people can presume that the policy is basically sound and the people had a good understanding of the policy," he said. "I think that's one of the circumstances where improvement can be made, but by and large things are in good shape."
The current policies dealing with use of force are spelled out in several sections of a manual that each officer gets, the report said. The report recommends that the department spell out the use of force policy in a separate paragraph or two at the beginning of the section of the manual that addresses the area of use of force. It also says the department should review the use of force policy annually, or whenever court decisions require it with a view toward improving its clarity and updating its provisions where appropriate.
Stephens said the peer review also recommended changes in community relations.
One of the recommendations calls for regularly assessing recruiting efforts of "under-represented" groups on the police force, including Native Americans, and letting the public know about those attempts.
THE REPORT says, "with the exception of Native Americans, the data seem to indicate the police department closely matches the community it serves with respect to racial and ethnic diversity."
"We think improvements can be made there," Stephens said. "It is apparent that the department has made attempts to do that and those attempts have been encouraged by the city manager."
Olin said he didn't find any recommendations in the report that he disagrees with.
"We've waited a long time for this and some of the changes we've identified internally have been on hold, waiting for the release of this report," Olin said. "We still need time to see exactly what we're going to do as an organization to follow these guidelines."
Olin said the department would follow the advice to review its use-of-force policy with the city's attorney.
He said the department was a step ahead of the peer review panel report on one recommendation a specific policy on handling domestic disturbance calls.
He said the department is "giving serious consideration" to other recommendations.
"SOME WOULD be very easy to implement and some of these are not only difficult, but also extremely costly," he said. "Installing a computer-aided dispatch system is probably the most expensive recommendation in the entire report and one with which we totally agree."
He said such a system would be a computerized method of identifying locations where police have been called in the past.
"And a good computer-aided dispatch system would be programmable to a degree that you could enter information about structures or people to aid ambulance or police response," he said.
Other peer review committee recommendations include:
Developing a more specific written guideline for how dispatchers screen calls and transmit information to officers in the field.
Developing a more comprehensive citizen complaint policy that would be separate from internal affairs procedures. That recommendation included providing the community with an annual report of complaints by category and their status.
Developing a policy for internal affairs investigations separate from the citizens' complaint policy.