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City leaders briefed on proposed changes to police oversight procedures

Lawrence City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St., is pictured on May 3, 2016.

Lawrence City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St., is pictured on May 3, 2016.

May 16, 2017, 11:21 p.m. Updated May 17, 2017, 1:38 p.m.

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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.

Comments

Charles L. Bloss, Jr. 1 week, 3 days ago

If I was a Lawrence Police officer, I would be looking for a job in law enforcement somewhere else..I do not agree with any citizen review board or the like. If I need to be investigated, I would want another law enforcement agency to do it.

RJ Johnson 1 week, 3 days ago

I agree with Charles L. Bloss, Jr. That'd be like having a receptionist on the medical review board reviewing surgery procedures then passing judgement on the doctor whether he/she did the surgery right or wrong.

The K.B.I. should be doing the investigations, not a citizens review board with no Law Enforcement training or experience!

Rochelle Valverde 1 week, 3 days ago

Hi RJ,

Just to clarify, the board does not conduct its own investigations. In the event of an appeal relating to racial or other bias-based policing, it would review the investigation done by the police department and then make a recommendation.

-Rochelle

Pete Kennamore 1 week, 2 days ago

Right! The blue gestapo will perform its own reviews. Nothing to see here. Move along.

Francis Hunt 1 week, 3 days ago

This is just Mayor Soden kowtowing to her "anti-police citizens" who elected her (which she has proudly boasted publicly on numerous occasions). I agree with Charles and RJ, only experts should be investigating something as complicated as law enforcement. Ask another agency to do the review not a covert angry mob. I have heard stories about the people currently serving on the fair and impartial policing advisory board, most have an anti-police bias. So if Mr. Markus and Mayor Soden decide to move forward with this ridiculous citizens review board they better clean house and find a way to attract unbiased citizens to serve on the new board: reasonable people who will seriously and without any personal agenda review the facts and make objective decisions.

Richard Quinlan 1 week, 3 days ago

Sunshine is always the best disinfectant for any process. This isnt rocket science folks. A properly vested and educated board guided by city attorneys is fully cabable of evaluating a complaint against a city employee.

Operating in the open is sound policy for both the citizens and the officers / deputies as it takes out many , but not all the opportunities to shield a poor performing employee . This does not mean an upheld complaint dictates a termination but could drive training for that employee. We all make mistakes on our jobs and are held accountable. This in itself may drive more internal training and corrective action by the department if they know there is competent oversight.

We are all subject to review.

It is always easier to operate when you know the rules , and understand if you operate outside the lines there are consequences , its easier for everyone to navigate.

Clark Coan 1 week, 3 days ago

I bet the best citizens review boards in the country do not look like this proposal. I mean there isn't a provision to allow investigations of police brutality or the violation of constitutional rights of citizens. I think there should be an INDEPENDENT board which has investigative powers including subpoena powers. Otherwise, the LPD will just whitewash.

Jake Davis 1 week, 3 days ago

I am confused by the story...the police department conducts a personnel investigation and if the complainant does not agree with the outcome, they can appeal to this board (who seems to have trouble having a quorum) within 14 days. After this review board makes a recommendation, what is next in the appeals process. Does it go back to the police department, city manager, or city commission? What if they make a recommendation and the results stay the same, what next?

If this is going to happen (which I do not support), I would hope the CC would place mandates that each board member attend the police departments citizens academy, conduct a ride-a-long with an officer, and be restricted to a short term (one year) appointment that is staggered so we are not replacing all of the board members at the same time.

Rochelle Valverde 1 week, 2 days ago

Hi Jake,

I've added a line to the story to indicate that 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.

Thanks, Rochelle

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