At its meeting Tuesday, the Lawrence City Commission will vote on whether to adopt a new process for handling complaints against the Lawrence Police Department.
The draft ordinance would authorize a community advisory board to formally accept complaints against the police department from the public and review investigations under certain circumstances. Currently, residents are generally instructed to make complaints about the police department to the police department itself, and the board receives only summaries from the police department at the end of the investigation.
Changes to the board have been in the works for months. Mayor Leslie Soden said that when the changes were being discussed, that one thing that was really important to people was that the investigations were done objectively.
“Making sure that whoever does the investigation is completely objective was a concern for people,” Soden said. “So, I would just need to make sure that however investigations are set up with these complaints, that they are done objectively in a way that people feel confident and trusting in the final determination.”
Under the proposed changes, the board also would be allowed to fully review the results of investigations related to accusations of racially bias or other types of bias if the person making the complaint does not agree with the finding. That review would take place in executive session, said Assistant City Attorney Maria Garcia.
“It would be a private meeting where the police department would present the investigation and their findings and conclusion,” Garcia said. “And the board would be able to hear all of that and then deliberate and then afterwards they would come up with their conclusion on whether they thought the police department's final conclusion was correct or not.”
If the board disagreed with the police department’s findings, it would forward an alternative finding to the city manager’s office for additional review. Currently, the board is not privy to details of the complaints or the investigations of racial profiling complaints.
If the commission votes to adopt the changes, the previous ordinance establishing the board would be replaced and the name of the board would be changed from the Citizen Advisory Board for Fair and Impartial Policing to the Community Police Review Board. The complaints, review and deliberations involving the board would be confidential and not open to the public.
Commissioners first received the proposed changes in December and at that time suggested there be a formal way to accept more feedback. Since then, a resident survey has been conducted. About 70 percent of those who completed the survey indicated that the advisory board should be allowed to confidentially receive complaints directly from the public. About 73 percent said the board should be allowed to review police bias complaints and investigations upon request.
The City Commission will convene at 5:45 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St.