After appointment of five community members, work group on police complaints to begin review soon
photo by: Journal-World Illustration
Five community members have been appointed to a new work group that will consider changes to the city’s police review board and how to improve oversight of complaints.
Each of the five city commissioners appointed one community member to the work group, and the commission as a whole approved all the appointments as part of its meeting this week. The five community members will make up part of the 12-member work group, which will begin meeting in the coming weeks.
The commission voted in June to approve a proposal to form the Community-Police Oversight Work Group to review and make recommendations related to the police complaint process and the city’s Community Police Review Board. The work group is meant to be a collaboration that includes board members, community members and the police, and a professional facilitator will be involved in the process.
The work group proposal called for the five residents to represent diverse communities. The five community members appointed and approved by the commission are as follows:
•Alex Kimball Williams, nominated by Mayor Courtney Shipley
•Doris Ricks, nominated by Vice Mayor Lisa Larsen
•Jacqlene Nance-Mengler, nominated by Commissioner Amber Sellers
•Harrison Baker, nominated by Commissioner Brad Finkeldei
•Jimmy Calderon, nominated by Commissioner Bart Littlejohn
The other members of the work group will be three members of the Community Police Review Board and four police representatives. The board plans to appoint its three members as part of its meeting Thursday evening. The police representatives will consist of two members of Lawrence Police Department command staff and two members of the police officers union, the Lawrence Police Officers’ Association.
The formation of the work group represents the most recent step in a yearslong effort to improve the city’s process for handling complaints against police.
At the urging of the Lawrence branch of the NAACP, the commission created the Community Police Review Board in 2018 following a long debate that included pushback from the police union. The governing ordinance that was ultimately approved gave the board a limited scope of review, and the board has not reviewed any complaints since its creation. Under the ordinance, complaints against police filed both internally and by members of the public are investigated by the employee’s direct supervisor or by a division of the police department. The board only reviews complaints dealing with racial and other bias and only if the person involved decides to appeal the department’s decision. The board’s members subsequently called for stronger oversight, referring to the board as a “rubber stamp.”
In June 2020, the commission directed the board to review its governing ordinance, and the board worked for more than a year to draft changes. However, the commission subsequently commissioned an outside study of the police department, which included a recommendation for a more collaborative process, and in January the commission directed the board to launch a new, broader review, which led to the work group proposal.
The city has anticipated it will cost $30,000 or less to hire a third-party facilitator for the work group. The work group proposal calls for a four-month time frame for the review once work group members and a facilitator are selected. In an update provided to the commission this week, city staff stated that the work group is expected to begin its review by the beginning of September.