City postpones work group to study police complaint process amid resignations from Community Police Review Board
photo by: Kim Callahan/Journal-World
In the wake of multiple resignations on the city’s Community Police Review Board, the first meeting of a work group that is supposed to be reconsidering how the city handles complaints against police has been further delayed.
The 12-member work group consists of four police representatives, three representatives of the Community Police Review Board, and five community members. The Lawrence City Commission appointed the five community members in August 2022, and at that time it was expected that the work group would begin its review by the beginning of September. However, the group has yet to hold its first meeting, and on Friday the city sent out an announcement that a meeting that had been scheduled for Monday, Jan. 30, had been postponed.
Five members of the Community Police Review board have resigned in the past year, and city spokesperson Porter Arneill said the work group’s meeting was postponed due to vacancies and other issues.
“There are lingering vacancies and unresolved questions regarding Community Police Review Board (CPRB) representation on the Work Group, which could interfere with the group’s ability to constructively initiate and engage in this work,” Arneill stated in an emailed response to questions.
The first resignation was Jane Gibson, who in February of last year wrote a letter to the City Commission and her fellow board members expressing concern about the lack of transparency regarding complaints against police and a lack of support to improve oversight from city leaders, including the police chief, as the Journal-World reported. Police Chief Rich Lockhart disputed that claim and said he was completely committed to transparency.
Since then, four additional board members have resigned, citing various reasons. Board member Michael Santos resigned in early summer due to frustration with the board, according to Arneill, and three additional board members resigned recently. They include Sanjay Mishra, who resigned due to work commitments; Jenny Robinson, who said she did not have capacity to be energized for the work needed; and Tonia Salvini, who resigned for personal reasons, according to Arneill.
Originally, the board selected board members James Minor, Stephanie Littleton and Salvini to represent the board in the work group. The board selected Amilee Turner at its meeting this month to replace Salvini in the work group following Salvini’s resignation from the board.
In a follow-up question, the Journal-World also asked the city how many vacancies there are in the work group and who has resigned from the work group since being appointed, but had not received a response by 6 p.m. Monday.
Accountability concerns regarding the city’s process for reviewing complaints against police date back several years, and the idea for the work group has been fraught since a city-hired consultant first made the recommendation in 2021.
At the urging of the Lawrence branch of the NAACP, the City Commission created the Community Police Review Board in 2018 following a long debate that included pushback from the local police union. The governing ordinance that was ultimately approved gave the board a limited scope of review, and city leaders called for a review of the ordinance after the board did not review any complaints in its first two years of existence, as the Journal-World reported in 2020. Though there have been dozens of complaints made against police since the creation of the board in 2018, it has reviewed only one complaint because of its limited review powers.
Under the 2018 ordinance, which continues to be in place, 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 appeals the department’s decision in writing within 14 days. The board’s members have called for stronger oversight for the past few years, referring to the board as a “rubber stamp” and “window dressing” for the department.
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 that would have expanded its oversight had the commission approved them. However, the commission subsequently hired an outside consultant to conduct a full study of the police department, and the consultant’s final report included a recommendation for a more collaborative process. In January 2022, the commission directed the board to launch a new, broader review, which led to the work group proposal. The city hired an outside facilitator to guide the process.
Arneill said that originally, the work group’s review and subsequent recommendation for changes was to be completed by the end of March. He said an exact date for when the work group will commence meeting has not yet been set, but it will be sometime after the Feb. 9 meeting of the Community Police Review Board, when the board’s membership issue will be addressed. He said it is also undetermined when the work group is expected to submit its recommendation, but the city anticipated a timeline would be established at the first meeting.