Lawrence City Commission to consider giving police review board access to bias investigation files

photo by: Journal-World Illustration

Lawrence Police Department logo, Lawrence City Hall

A community board may soon be able to review police investigation files related to certain racial or other bias complaints made against police.

At its meeting Tuesday, the Lawrence City Commission will consider allowing the city’s Community Police Review Board to review the police department’s internal investigation file when the person who made the bias complaint disagrees with the police findings.

The current board, the Citizen Advisory Board for Fair and Impartial Policing, reviews only a summary of the investigation provided by police that some have said provides limited information. The proposed change is part of a revamp of the board meant to give it more oversight.

As proposed, the new board would have the ability to accept misconduct and bias complaints against the police from the public, which are forwarded to the police department for investigation. Commissioner Jennifer Ananda, an attorney and social worker, questioned the new board’s level of access to that investigation during a final review last month of the ordinance to create the board. The commission agreed with Ananda’s concerns, and city legal staff has since made changes to the proposed ordinance.

The proposed ordinance now states that the board will be provided a copy of the entire file of the internal police investigation, which is conducted by the police department’s Office of Professional Accountability. Previously, the ordinance did not guarantee the board would have full access to the file.

As previously written, the ordinance only stated that the board shall “review the police department’s investigation to determine if further investigation is needed.” City legal staff previously told the Journal-World that in some complex cases that may be a written summary rather than the investigation file itself.

Ananda previously told the Journal-World that she thinks it’s important for the board to see the police investigation file to be able to make an informed recommendation to the city manager and that a strong board is the city’s opportunity to show it is committed to fair policing. At that time, leaders with the local chapter of the NAACP also said they thought the board should have access to the entire file. Lawrence NAACP President Ursula Minor said that the investigation summaries provided by the police to the board offered “very limited” information.

But police union representatives have said expanding the board’s access to investigations could create issues. City legal staff included some limits on the file. The proposed ordinance states that the file can be redacted on a case-by-case basis to protect confidential information related to the complainant, witness or police officer or to protect “the integrity of any on-going criminal investigation.” Redactions would be made by the Office of Professional Accountability and would have to be approved by city legal staff, according to the proposed ordinance.

Regarding what type of information could be redacted from the file, Assistant City Attorney Maria Garcia said there is not a bright-line rule of what has to be included. She said that primarily redactions would involve private information, such as personal identifying information, contact information or criminal history, but that it would depend on the case.

“I want to stress that it’s case by case, so we would have to see if there is something unique about that particular case that warrants redaction,” Garcia said. She said information could also be redacted if it would hurt an ongoing criminal investigation, whether that be the case that gave rise to the complaint or a separate case.

The board would review a bias complaint only if the person who made the complaint files a written appeal regarding the police department’s finding, according to the proposed ordinance. If the board disagrees with the finding, it can then make a recommendation to the city manager that more investigation be done. The city manager then decides whether to affirm or deny the investigation and would make any disciplinary decisions regarding the officer.

The City Commission will convene at 5:45 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St.


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