The Lawrence Police Department needs to be more open. And more oversight wouldn't hurt, either.
That's according to some Lawrence city commissioners.
"They are not forthcoming," Commissioner Mike Rundle said. "We need a genuine partnership."
Commissioners say that in general and for some time, the department has been less than open about providing information, causing growing concern that the police and public they are responsible for protecting don't communicate often or well enough.
The latest concern follows news last week of an FBI inquiry into allegations that Lawrence Police officers might have presented themselves as FBI agents in the course of the department's ongoing investigation of an alleged fencing operation at Yellow House, a secondhand store at 1904 Mass.
Rundle and other city commissioners said they would be willing to reconsider a citizen review board with broader powers to handle concerns.
"It's simply time to have such a mechanism in Lawrence," Rundle said.
Commissioner Boog Highberger suggested a similar idea during his tenure as mayor, saying there was a certain level of "distrust" among some members of the community.
"I think we need some mechanism outside the direct control of the police department to give citizens assurances about our police department," Highberger said in August 2005.
More about the inquiry
- FBI inquiry stalled by lack of formal complaint
- 6News video: FBI investigation of Yellow House sting continues
- FBI inquiry under way in conduct of police (06-15-06)
- Letter from Police Chief Ron Olin to Sarah Swain about the investigation (.pdf)
- Affidavit on alleged improper tactics used by police officers (.pdf)
- Police search Yellow House in stolen goods investigation (05-09-06)
- Fliers provide false information about Yellow House probe (04-14-06)
- Yellow House store owners to have party to thank supporters (03-02-06)
Rundle said he recently received feedback from leaders from other cities that have similar panels and came away convinced a review board would provide the kind of oversight all police departments need.
Lawrence city leaders already have discussed broadening the powers of the existing citizen advisory board.
That board is responsible for developing the city's racial profiling policy and is in place only because state law requires it, city leaders said.
"That may be something we want to talk about," Mayor Mike Amyx said of broadening the current board's powers.
Police Sgt. Dan Ward said the department already had well-defined complaint processes in place and that a year-end report detailing complaints and findings from internal investigations is presented to the City Commission.
"Corrective action is taken whenever appropriate," Ward said of the process.
He said the department was aware of its responsibility to the people of Lawrence.
Ward referred all questions regarding the need for a more powerful citizen advisory board to Chief Ron Olin, who was out of town and couldn't be contacted.
But before the City Commission decides on any possible changes to the current board, Amyx said he would want a clear understanding of what the board could and could not query the department about.
For example, Amyx said, it often is difficult to glean information about ongoing investigations because of the sensitive or classified nature of the material.
"I would want to know exactly what we would be asking the board to do," he said.
Commissioner David Schauner also said a review board's duties would need to be carefully defined. A board with broad investigative powers could complicate police work and hamper investigations.
"It sounds simple, but I'm sure it's much more complicated," Schauner said.
But Schauner said if the police department enacted a more community-friendly policing model, the lines of communication between police and the public would be better.
"I don't think they've implemented much in community policing yet," Schauner said. "I suspect that includes making more info available in a timely way."
Rundle also said all city departments were shifting toward a new performance measurement model that should increase the police department's self-examination and the sharing of more information with the community.
The performance management model includes specific department goals and audits to ensure those goals are met.
As the shift toward performance management standards progresses, Amyx said he wanted to have a clear understanding of what kinds of information city departments were going to provide, including the police department.
"I would assume if we're going to put performance management in place, it would include all departments," Amyx said.
Ward said the police department is working on implementing that system.
"All city departments, as well as the police department, are currently working to develop new performance measurements as a way to determine effectiveness, efficiency and workloads," Ward said.