The Lawrence City Commission is right to give a community review board greater oversight of complaints against police.
On Tuesday, city commissioners reviewed a draft ordinance that would give the community board the opportunity to review full results of police misconduct investigations involving accusations of racial or other types of bias — including national origin, gender or religion — when the person making the complaint appeals the police department’s findings.
The proposal also would authorize the board to formally accept complaints against the police department from the public and review appealed investigations.
Under the proposed changes, the community review board would conduct its reviews in executive session and the review would be confidential. The proposed changes also would allow for public comment during the review board’s open sessions.
Currently, residents are required 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.
Last year, 17 complaints were filed against the police department, assistant city attorney Maria Garcia said. Those can include complaints from the public against police officers and complaints filed by other officers.
Garcia said the purpose of the changes is to make the review board process more transparent.
Garcia is right. Under the current rules, the community review board is little more than window dressing, a board that on the surface appears to provide public oversight of the police department, but in reality, has very little authority to take any action. The proposed changes provide greater public checks and balances that should, in the long run, increase public confidence that officers will be held accountable if they treat residents unfairly.
On Tuesday, commissioners were generally supportive of the draft ordinance. They recommended that more consideration be given to the review 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. When it does, the commission should approve the new ordinance.