City leaders see police study and recommendations as first step in improvements to policing
photo by: Chris Conde
City leaders said Tuesday that they saw the recently completed study of the Lawrence Police Department as a first step in a larger process to reconsider the role of police in the community and how the department operates.
As part of a special meeting Tuesday, consultants with Citygate Associates presented the findings of the police department study to the City Commission and the public. The commission called for the study and subsequent report last year following national and local protests against police killings of Black people and other people of color and calls for reallocation of some police duties to social services.
The subsequent 132-page report includes 60 findings and 75 recommendations across various categories, including race-related issues and community engagement, handling of complaints against police, and alternative responses to policing such as mental health responses. City staff will now take the next 90 days to create an implementation plan that will come back to the commission.
“There’s a lot of work ahead of us, but it’s a good starting point,” Mayor Brad Finkeldei said.
Key findings of the report included that the department lacks adequate transparency, tracking and oversight of complaints against police, and commitment to community-based policing. Community listening sessions showed that people of color and other marginalized groups, in contrast to white participants, almost universally reported negative experiences with police, and Black participants shared stories of unwarranted traffic stops, unprovoked harsh behavior and unjustified arrests. The consultants also said there was a “near-universal disconnect” between police and people of color in the community.
In the listening sessions, none of the community members who reported negative encounters with police had filed a complaint, and many said that they lacked confidence in the department to investigate its own officers or that their stories would not have been believed because of their race, ethnicity, sexual orientation or gender identity.
During Tuesday’s meeting, the consultants highlighted some key findings, including that the department must become “much more transparent,” that it must engage in community- and partner-based policing solutions, and that there is a strong need to increase field supervision, quality oversight and tracking of complaints against police.
Commissioner Lisa Larsen said she saw a few common threads in the study results, including that the city needed to collect more data, create outcome-driven approaches and ensure that those outcomes were tied to the goals in the commission’s strategic plan. Larsen also said she appreciated the listening sessions and the input gained in that process.
“We had some very frank discussions with staff as well as the community, and I really appreciate that very much,” Larsen said.
Commissioner Jennifer Ananda said she saw the study as a good first step and she was looking forward to how the community and its law enforcement would work to create change.