Editorial: Progress on police board

The city of Lawrence’s revised ordinance creating a Community Police Review Board shows significant progress and should be approved by the Lawrence City Commission.

The ordinance gives the board, whose role was largely ceremonial in the past, the ability to review police investigation files related to racial or other bias complaints made against police when the person who made the bias complaint disagrees with police findings.

If approved, the board will have the ability to accept misconduct and bias complaints against the police from the public. The police department’s Office of Professional Accountability investigates the complaints.

Last month, the City Commission asked staff to revise the ordinance because they were concerned about language giving authorities broad discretion to redact files — including video and audio.

The revised ordinance states that redaction will be determined on a case-by-case basis and that only information that is private, would subject the city to civil or criminal liability, would adversely affect the integrity of an investigation or that is otherwise prohibited by law or policy may be redacted.

The revised language also cites specific examples of the kinds of information that can be redacted or withheld, including criminal history, medical records and information pertaining to victims of domestic violence or sexual crimes. The ordinance states that permitted redactions can include those examples but are not limited to them.

The proposed ordinance states that audio and video recordings shall be provided unless redaction is necessary and cannot be accomplished. In such cases, the city attorney, or his or her designee, “shall cause a summary of the recording to be made.”

Finally, the ordinance states that “effort shall be made to provide as much information as possible to the board in its review of an appeal under this subsection.” That statement is key as it reflects the desire of the City Commission to err on the side of providing, rather than withholding, as much information as possible.

As we have said before, the Community Police Review Board can be a model for other cities to follow in terms of strengthening the relationship between the city’s residents and its police force. The language in the revised ordinance more closely resembles the spirit of transparency commissioners sought in creating the board, and the ordinance merits approval at tonight’s commission meeting.

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