Lawrence city commissioners directed staff to review several aspects of a draft proposal to give a community review board more oversight over complaints against the police department.
Mayor Leslie Soden said she wanted to make sure the public can trust the results of the investigations, which are done by the police department.
“Are there any internal procedures that can be done that would make the public trust the findings?” Soden asked city staff.
Assistant City Attorney Maria Garcia responded that the purpose of the ordinance is to be more transparent. Under the proposed changes, a community review board would be allowed to fully review the results of investigations related to accusations of racial bias or other types of bias — including bias based on national origin, gender or religion — if the person making the complaint does not agree with the police department's finding and appeals within 14 days. The board will review the police investigation of the complaint and if it disagrees would forward an alternative finding to the city manager’s office for additional review.
Garcia went over the proposed changes to the standing ordinance, and also reminded commissioners why the investigations will continue to be done by the police department. Garcia explained that a U.S. Supreme Court case from 1967, Garrity v. New Jersey, established that only a police officer’s employer can require an officer to make a statement in an internal affairs investigation.
“Police officers don’t lose their right against self-incrimination under the Fifth Amendment once they become police officers, so if they are ever investigated, it is only the employer that can compel them to make a statement,” Garcia said.
Last year, there were 17 complaints filed against the police department, according to Garcia. Those can include complaints from the public against police officers and complaints filed by other officers. The draft ordinance would authorize the board to formally accept complaints against the police department from the public and review appealed investigations. Currently, residents are generally instructed to make complaints about the police department to the department itself, and the board receives only summaries from the police department at the end of the investigation.
The board’s review of any appeals would take place in executive session and be confidential. The ordinance states that disclosing confidential information received during executive session is a breach of privacy, a class A nonperson misdemeanor.
“There might be some cases where a complaint is brought against an officer and it’s completely unfounded, and so the purpose of this is to try to maintain and keep private those allegations until they are proven to be true,” Garcia said.
The ordinance also allows the board to accept public comment during its meetings regarding department policies and procedures. City Manager Tom Markus said it creates a forum that doesn’t necessarily exist currently.
“It allows for an exchange in a venue where you have a citizen board sitting there kind of monitoring that conversation,” Markus said. “And then they take up those recommendations and make a recommendation.”
Garcia said staff have been reviewing the proposal with the Lawrence Police Officers' Association, the local police union, and that the public comment aspect of the ordinance is still being discussed. Garcia said the proposed ordinance has yet to go in front of other officers.
The commission received the updated draft ordinance and recommended that more consideration be given to the board’s meeting schedule and term limits for board members. The final version of the ordinance will come back before the commission at an upcoming meeting.
In other business, the commission voted unanimously to move forward with another location study for a bus transfer hub. The study, which will aim to identify locations for both a primary and secondary transfer hub for the city’s bus service, will seek feedback from commissioners and the public. All but $10,000 of the $50,000 study will be paid for by a planning grant.