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Archive for Saturday, January 25, 1992

POLICE REVIEW DRAWS POSITIVE RESPONSE FROM CITY OFFICIAL

January 25, 1992

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City Manager Mike Wildgen said Friday night that he agrees with a report that says Lawrence's police department needs to be more specific about its policies and needs to do a better job of letting the public know how it operates.

However, Wildgen said he was still studying the recommendations that were handed down by the Lawrence Police Peer Review Committee.

"I want to recognize that there was a great deal of work that went into this," he said. "I feel pretty good about it because it was a peer review."

Lawrence city commissioners are expected Tuesday night to set up a study session to review the report, Wildgen said.

Meanwhile, Wildgen said he plans to talk to Police Chief Ron Olin about how the changes suggested for current policies, training and community relations can be implemented.

"There isn't any department in the city that doesn't need some type of improvement," Wildgen said. "I'm excited about some of the ideas in here."

WILDGEN SAID he was interested in the recommendation that community relations be emphasized so the public knows how the department handles citizen complaints about police conduct.

"The public needs to know how we look at ourselves and that the department is not unsupervised in that area," Wildgen said. "That's the one that stuck out in my mind."

Wildgen said that some of the recommendations in the report, including developing a domestic disturbance policy, have already been accomplished.

He said he plans to discuss with Olin and some of the police supervisors ways to update the policy dealing with the use of firearms, which was one of the report's recommendations.

The report came about following the April 21, 1991, police shooting of Gregory Sevier, a 22-year-old 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 CRITICISM of the police department that followed prompted the city commission to form the eight-member review panel.

One of the panel members, Reginald Robinson, an associate professor of law at Kansas University, said Friday night that he was pleased with the panel's report.

Robinson said he was heavily involved in the recommendation calling for updating the department's policy on the the use of force.

"It was the particular one I thought needed clarity for the police officers and for communicating to the public a clear sense of what the deptartment's policy is," Robinson said.

"The use of force doesn't happen a lot in Lawrence," he said. "But when it happens it's an area you have to make sure is clear in the policy and very clearly understood."

He said when police update the use-of-force policy, it should clearly delineate when the use of non-deadly force is appropriate and clearly explain at what point officers can cross the line and use their firearms.

ROBINSON said the committee decided not to spell out the circumstances for using deadly force.

"I don't think any of us had it in mind to provide a new set of rules," he said. "We just wanted to highlight those areas. . . . I'm confident that the police department is capable of making those appropriate changes once the areas have been highlighted for them."

Overall, Robinson said he thought the police department "is generally good."

"And it probably does most things right from our perspective," he said. "But there are some things that need review."

Robinson also said he thought one of the more important recommendations in the report deals with improving community relations.

"No matter how well you are operating a department, if you are not doing a good job at communicating with the community you are going to have some perception problems," he said.

Robinson said even if the police department implements all the recommendations, the department will not erase all of its image problems.

"It's not going to heal the public perception problem the department has right away, but I think it goes a long way," Robinson said. "I think time is going to play a role. Perceptions are not going to change overnight."

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