Review board calls for police to more clearly inform residents of their ability to appeal complaint findings
After having not received a single complaint to review since it was formed, the Community Police Review Board is asking for changes on the Lawrence Police Department’s website to instruct residents on how to elevate a complaint to the board.
As part of its meeting Thursday evening, the board provided feedback to the police department regarding the complaint process and information on the department’s website about making complaints. Currently, the website does not provide information on how a complaint can get to the board for review, and board members voted unanimously to direct city staff to work with the department to update the website and create a brochure or flyer outlining the complaint process.
Board member Marie Taylor said it appeared that the police department’s webpage that provides instructions on complaints had not been updated since the city made changes to the powers of the board in 2018, giving the board the additional duty of reviewing complaints regarding racial or other bias if the person who filed the complaint appeals the finding of the police department. Taylor pointed out that the webpage regarding the complaint process does not even mention the possibility of an appeal or the Community Police Review Board.
“I know we’re trying to make changes to the ordinance (governing the board), but we should at least match what is actually the local law currently,” Taylor said. “We do have an appeal function, so at a minimum that should be included in the information about a complaint.”
As the Journal-World previously reported, the board has not reviewed any complaints against police that fall in its purview since it was created in June 2018. The current ordinance governing the board — which was arrived at after a long debate that included pushback from the local police union — allows the board to review only racial and other bias complaints if the person involved decides to appeal the police department’s decision and does so in writing within 14 days. The board has not reviewed any complaints since its creation more than two years ago because no complaints concerning racial or other bias have been appealed.
Other board members agreed that the city needs to ensure residents are aware of their right to appeal and that they understand the complaint process. In addition to updates to the police department’s webpage about the complaint process, the board voted to create a flyer or brochure that provides information about the complaint process that can be hung up or distributed around town.
The police department’s complaint webpage, titled “Complaints and Compliments,” begins by telling people how they can compliment the police, before providing an online form and phone numbers for how to file a complaint. After a recent change suggested by the board, the police department’s main landing page does provide a link to the board’s agenda website, which lists the board’s duties, members, meeting agendas and other documents. However, the complaint webpage does not link to or mention the board or otherwise indicate that residents can appeal the decision of the police department regarding racial and other bias complaints to the board for further review.
In response to the board’s concerns, Lt. David Ernst told the board that though the website does provide instructions regarding the complaint process, “most” complaints actually come in by phone. Ernst also said that prior to the recent change, the link to the board’s website from the police department’s website had been “unintentionally buried.” Ernst said that he agreed it would be more intuitive to also provide a link to the board’s website within the complaint page.
Thursday’s discussion came amid the board’s ongoing effort to draft an ordinance to expand its review powers. Under the current setup, if the board receives an appeal of a racial or other bias complaint to review and it disagrees with the department’s finding, it can only recommend to the city manager that the department investigate further. The board’s proposed ordinance broadens the board’s purview to allow the board to receive and review all types of community member complaints concerning law enforcement actions, not just appeals of racial or other bias complaints, and the ability to request an independent investigation.
As part of its meeting, the board also discussed its ongoing survey regarding proposed changes to the ordinance. After its launch last month, the board has already received about 250 responses to the survey, and it voted to close the survey by the end of the day Monday and assign board members to prepare summaries of responses to each question for future discussion. Residents who still want to complete the survey can do so on the Lawrence Listens platform on the city’s website, lawrenceks.org.