District Attorney Suzanne Valdez tells police review board that broadening its review of complaints could be ‘problematic’

photo by: City of Lawrecne broadcast

Douglas County District Attorney Suzanne Valdez speaks with members of the Community Police Review Board as part of the board's meeting on Feb. 11, 2021.

Douglas County’s new district attorney Suzanne Valdez told members of Lawrence Community Police Review Board that she has some concerns with their effort to strengthen oversight of complaints against police.

Valdez, who replaced longtime District Attorney Charles Branson a month ago, attended the board’s meeting Thursday night, where she spoke about some endeavors of her office and commented on the board’s ongoing effort to overhaul the ordinance that lays out its powers and how it operates. Valdez told board members that increasing the board’s scope of review over complaints against police could be “problematic,” especially if the conduct could lead to an investigation with potential prosecution.

“So if we have this separate investigation, if you will, happening that could really really potentially cause problems with our ability to do our job,” Valdez said.

Board members have previously described the board as a “rubber stamp” for the police department under its current setup. The board approved a first draft of changes to the ordinance that aim to increase transparency and accountability regarding complaints made against police. Though a division of the Lawrence police department will continue to investigate complaints against police under the draft, which could lead to prosecution, it gives the board the ability to call for an independent, outside investigation if deemed necessary, among other changes.

More specifically, the board would review all complaints filed by residents against police and the police department’s investigation. In addition, the board would have the ability to conduct a preliminary review of complaints and to request an additional statement from the complainant if needed. Once the police department’s internal investigation was complete, the board could request that the department do additional investigation if deemed necessary. At the end of an investigation, if the board found there was not enough evidence to support the police department’s conclusion, it could request an independent investigation.

In addition to the issues with potentially having two investigations, Valdez said that increasing the scope of the board’s complaint review could be burdensome at a time when “it’s hard to be a police officer,” and that resources could be used more effectively for community safety. Valdez also said the board’s definition of a complaint was vague, and that could bring a wide breadth of issues to the board that police are better equipped to handle. Lastly, Valdez noted that the city has hired a consultant to conduct an outside study of the police department and that her office was also coordinating with the Government Alliance on Race and Equity, and that those reviews would include collaboration with law enforcement and seek to address some of the same issues concerning the board.

“So I would really really encourage allowing those consultants to come in and see what’s going on,” Valdez said.

Board Member Marie Taylor said Valdez’s comments resonated with her, as the board had had some of those conversations internally and had struggled with trying to figure out where to draw the line on what complaints the board will review. Taylor noted that she herself had originally wanted the board to focus on complaints about racial and biased based policing, but ultimately the board wanted to see all complaints so it could get a better idea of the issues community members are having with police.

“We’ll find out as we go, but I think the board was wanting to err on side of caution to figure out what is the lay of the land in terms of complaints that we haven’t had our eyes on, and then we might have to circle back and kind of sharpen those definitions as we go,” Taylor said. “It’s kind of a work of progress.”

The board will be gathering community feedback on its draft ordinance. Once all feedback is received, the board will consider potential changes to the draft based on the responses. The board’s recommended ordinance will ultimately go to the City Commission for consideration.

As part of the meeting, Valdez also discussed what the district attorney’s office was doing to address racial profiling and its efforts to create a Brady-Giglio policy, which concerns required disclosures about potential bias or credibility issues of police and other witnesses that testify as part of prosecutions.


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