Lawrence city leaders suspend regular police review board meetings during review of complaint process

photo by: City of Lawrence

The Lawrence City Commission convenes for its meeting on May 9, 2023. Commissioner Amber Sellers was absent.

City leaders have voted to suspend regular meetings of the Community Police Review Board until a work group considering the city’s police complaint process and other policing matters can recommend changes.

As part of its meeting Tuesday, the Lawrence City Commission voted 4-0, with Commissioner Amber Sellers absent, to adopt a resolution to postpone review board meetings until the Community Police Oversight Work Group completes its work.

The commission agreed with city staff’s assessment that a suspension was prudent so the work group, which contains three review board members, can focus on its task and so that review board members, who are volunteers, are not overextended.

“I think it’s important to get the oversight work group working and working hard,” Commissioner Brad Finkeldei said. “In the next six weeks we’re going to be pushing them to get this done, so I think this makes sense.”

Vice Mayor Bart Littlejohn said he agreed. Before the vote, Finkeldei confirmed that the review board, which under its current purview reviews only certain types of complaint appeals, will still convene if such an appeal is filed.

Accountability concerns regarding the city’s process for handling complaints against police date back several years, and the work of both the review board and the work group have been the subject of debate and delay since 2020. The work group will consider making changes to how the city handles complaints against police, the role of community oversight and the community’s relationship with police more broadly.

Under a 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.

Review board members have said the current complaint process does not provide sufficient oversight, and in 2020, at the commission’s direction, drafted changes to the ordinance. That draft did not move forward for discussion after the commission decided to form the work group.

In other business, the commission:

•Voted 4-0, with Sellers absent, to approve a historical marker for Margaret “Sis” Vinegar. Margaret, who was Black, was 14 in 1882 when David Bausman, a white farmer in his 40s, sexually assaulted her under the Kansas River bridge in downtown Lawrence. Two friends of Margaret’s who came to her aid, as well as her father, all of whom were Black, were lynched after Bausman’s body was found in the river. Margaret, rather than being treated as a victim, was convicted of murder and died in prison at the age of 20. The Lawrence branch of the NAACP collaborated with the Equal Justice Initiative on the marker project, which seeks to recognize the racial and sexual violence Margaret faced, as the Journal-World recently reported. Plans are for the marker to be dedicated on June 10.

• Received and held a public hearing on the 2023-2027 Community Development Block Grant and HOME Investment Partnerships Program Consolidated Plan. The plan includes the recommended funding allocation for federal community development and housing grants. Tuesday’s hearing opens a 30-day public comment period for the plan. The commission will consider approving the recommendation at its meeting on June 13.


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