The Lawrence City Commission should adopt new guidelines for the community review board that handles complaints against the police department.
At its meeting tonight, the commission will consider creating a new board to replace the Citizen Advisory Board for Fair and Impartial Policing. The new board would have additional responsibilities and oversight regarding complaints of police misconduct, including complaints of bias. The new board would accept complaints regarding police misconduct or bias from the public, which would be forwarded to the police for investigation. That differs from the current system, under which complaints about the police department go to the department itself. The advisory board receives only summaries from the police department at the end of the investigation.
“This new board would be looking into allegations of racial or other bias-based policing and actually hearing what the police department investigated, and be more involved with it,” Assistant City Attorney Maria Garcia said.
And for some bias complaints, the board’s duties would go beyond just accepting complaints. The ordinance defines bias as the unreasonable use of race, ethnicity, national origin, gender or religion by a law enforcement officer in deciding to initiate a law enforcement action.
The board would be able to review bias investigations if the person who makes the complaint disagrees with the finding of the police department’s investigation and files a written appeal. In that case, the board would review the investigation “to determine if further investigation is needed,” and would then make a written recommendation to the city manager for review.
There were 17 complaints filed against the police department in 2016.
All complaints are confidential, and reviews of police investigations done by the board would be done in executive session. Board members would sign a confidentiality agreement.
The Lawrence Police Officers’ Association has asked that public comment at board meetings be limited to regular agenda items unrelated to a complaint. That’s too restrictive. Public boards should allow for general public comment.
The Citizen Advisory Board for Fair and Impartial Policing has limited authority to have meaningful impact on complaints against police. The new board has increased but appropriate authority to review allegations of police misconduct and bias. The board should be approved.