Archive for Sunday, January 27, 2008


Public oversight is what separates America’s law enforcement agencies from the secret police of totalitarian regimes.

January 27, 2008


"Transparency" should be a guiding principle for all aspects of a democratic government. All elected bodies and government agencies must remember that their power comes from the people and they ultimately are responsible to the public for whatever actions they take.

The word "transparency" came up last week in connection with a discussion about Lawrence police operations and the possibility of forming a citizens review board for the police department. One of the reasons City Commissioner Rob Chestnut said he might consider such a board was that he had received a number of public "comments about transparency" in the department.

There are many ways to achieve transparency, and a citizens review board may not be the right one for Lawrence, but this discussion provides a timely reminder that law enforcement agencies build public confidence when they are as open as possible about their operations.

There are, of course, many legitimate reasons for law enforcement agencies to withhold information, but there also are many legitimate reasons for the public to have information about police operations. Public accountability of government and law enforcement is a key element that separates our democracy from totalitarian regimes whose secret police forces operate outside the public eye.

American law enforcement agencies face some special challenges at this point in our history. Difficult economic times tend to feed discontent that can place more pressure on law enforcement. The Patriot Act and other anti-terrorism laws also have raised public concerns about civil rights and how law enforcement agencies operate.

In that environment, it's even more important for law enforcement agencies at all levels to try to show the public they have nothing to hide. They do that by providing as much information as possible about the work they do and responding promptly and openly to questions and complaints about police operations. An ombudsman or a citizens review board might identify ways to improve communication or improve police operations, but the same transparency also can occur when elected officials and law enforcement leaders take seriously the principle that they are public servants and that the public is their ultimate boss.

Law enforcement officers don't deserve to be second-guessed about every decision they make in the dangerous venues in which they operate, but providing timely information and data - being transparent - can only increase public support for the important work they do.


Paul R Getto 10 years, 1 month ago

Good points; meanwhile, we patiently wait for a real citizen's review board.

ontheotherhand 10 years, 1 month ago

The funny thing is that there already IS a Lawrence Citizen Advisory board. I am shocked that neither the LJWorld Editorial Staff nor Commissioner Chestnut realizes that this Board exists (look for yourself at: Unfortunately, it is run by Chief Olin, and he is not even on the board. Not real transparent, I'd say . . .

geniusmannumber1 10 years, 1 month ago

Dolly, do you just habitually call everybody who is not yourself "liberal"? Like some people call everyone "buddy", or "bra", or "dude?"

camper 10 years, 1 month ago

---Dolly, do you just habitually call everybody who is not yourself "liberal"? Like some people call everyone "buddy", or "bra", or "dude?"---

Some people just think of everything as being mutualy exclusive. Ie heads or and white....liberal or conservative. They cannot see the many other outcomes or variables that might exist.

Corey Williams 10 years, 1 month ago

"Often, pleonasm is understood to mean a word or phrase which is useless, cliched..."

Kathy Theis-Getto 10 years, 1 month ago

I am not sure what a "real citizen's review board" is exactly, but what I garner from the discussion on this forum, it could be adversarial in nature.

Instead of setting up adversarial elements like "oversight" and "copwatch," why don't we simply work in conjunction with and engage citizens with Lawrence law enforcement? Be a part of protecting our society instead of setting up dueling organizations. That way, if something is wrong or needs addressing, the change can happen among people who know and respect each other.

The alternative is to have an Us vs. Them attitude that makes for confusion, distrust, and wasted energy.

Corey Williams 10 years, 1 month ago

Actually, Dolly is still upset about the tax rebate measure to bolster the economy. He(she) wanted to make sure that everyone knew he(she) made too much money to get anything. In fact, you should probably say it again. Just in case there were some people who didn't see it the first time.

Dorothy Hoyt-Reed 10 years, 1 month ago

Actually, I agree that liberals don't seem to worry about accountability or they would have held Cheney and Bush responsible for all their lies.

justthefacts 10 years, 1 month ago

The board noted in the link above is not authorized to review EVERY complaint made against Lawrence police officers. Rather, it was created in response to the Kansas laws on racial profiling. Those rather new laws required the creation of such a board in order to review complaints of that type, and how they are/were handled in-house by the police. If Chief Olin chooses to make the group aware of any other matters or complaints, it's completely discretionary on his part.

Unless a particular citizen's review board has the authority to overturn a decision or discpline an officer etc., all it really provides is a sounding board for upset people who aren't happy with the police or their actions or think they did wrong in a legal way. It does allow the police department to put some distance between them and the people who complain, which is why some police department's love the idea; they no longer have to listen to complainers. But such groups never (or not that I'm aware) have been given the power to make the law enforcement officers or offices change or rectify one single thing. They are simply another layer - and public sounding board.

There is already a forum for actually getting results on complaints that the cops violated people's rights; it is called the judicial system.

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