Lawrence leaders to receive final report from work group studying police complaint process; group recommends broader role for board

photo by: Rochelle Valverde/Journal-World

Lawrence City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St., is pictured on Jan. 31, 2023.

After years of effort — and multiple delays — the work group tasked with reconsidering the City of Lawrence’s process for handling complaints against police is set to share a final report with city leaders this week, including one recommendation that substantially expands on which types of complaints could be subject to review.

At Tuesday’s Lawrence City Commission meeting, commissioners are set to receive the report from the Community Police Oversight Work Group. It calls for 18 consensus recommendations regarding the complaint process and the scope and structure of the Community Police Review Board, the group that’s responsible for reviewing such complaints.

The CPRB has been suspended since May 2023 so the work group could recommend changes, which are in part intended to address the board’s limited review powers. Since it was created in 2018, the board has reviewed only one of the dozens of complaints made against police; its limited purview doesn’t allow for review of misconduct complaints under any circumstances and reviews of the police’s investigation of racial or other bias-based complaints occur only if the person who made the complaint appeals the police department’s determination.

But that could change if city commissioners approve the group’s recommendations. The group is proposing that the CPRB’s scope be broadened to allow the board to hear appeals not only related to bias-based complaints but also appeals related other types of alleged misconduct by police officers.

The report calls for expanding the CPRB’s review capacity to include all “Level 1 and Level 2” infractions, rather than limiting the board to only racial or other bias-based policing complaints.

“Level 1” infractions refer to the most serious level of complaints, according to the report, and include a criminal element to an officer’s alleged actions that could damage the reputation of the city, LPD and its personnel. That can include excessive force, racial and bias-based policing, sexual harassment, unlawful search and seizure or violation of civil rights.

“Level 2” complaints, meanwhile, refer to allegations of a less serious nature that can generally include inappropriate conduct or failure to make a mandatory report or arrest.

The work group agrees that the CPRB’s overall purpose should be to serve in a review capacity concerning appeals, a recommendation that according to the report is intended to clarify debate and confusion as to whether the board has been fulfilling its role as outlined in its bylaws and the current ordinance.

City leaders voted to form the work group more than a year and a half ago in June 2022, and it was supposed to begin its work by September. But the work group didn’t commence until midway through 2023 in the wake of five resignations on the CPRB in the space of a year, which led to multiple delays. The first of those resignations was Jane Gibson, who in February 2022 wrote a letter to the City Commission and board members expressing concern about the lack of transparency regarding complaints against police and a lack of support to improve oversight from city leaders.

Below are some of the notable consensus recommendations listed in the report, as well as other considerations that received mixed support that the group believes warrant further discussion.

Complaint process

The work group is making several recommendations related to making the complaint and appeals process more accessible to the community. As the Journal-World has reported, public reports describing complaints filed between when the CPRB was created in 2018 and June 2020 became significantly less detailed compared to years prior.

One of those recommendations is to provide educational sessions on the complaint process for the public once the city has implemented any recommendations, and another calls for simplifying complaint forms and providing the public with a visual representation of the complaint process in the form of a diagram.

In terms of complaint investigations, the work group agreed unanimously about properly tracking complaints with regular updates to the CPRB. As it stands, those updates come from a staff liaison to the CPRB and the police chief voluntarily, but work group members agreed it should be codified as a requirement within the revised ordinance.

The work group also agrees that the police department should provide a monthly list of all complaints, including a summary of allegations, investigative findings and relevant dates. The current ordinance already requires a report to be provided on at least a quarterly basis.

Other recommendations in this area include actions like expanding access to the complaint form both in a digital format and in hard copy at multiple locations and standardizing the complaint and appeal forms so that all relevant information can be gathered on each complaint.

As for items the work group thinks warrant further discussion, 10 of the 12 group members were in favor of allowing previously closed complaints to be reopened if and when new evidence is discovered. Another recommendation that any individual that witnesses what they believe is a violation of police policies or procedures should be able to file a complaint, but only the involved complainant can file the appeal, received an affirmative response from nine members of the group.

Board scope

In addition to recommending that the board be allowed to hear appeals related to Level 1 and Level 2 complaints, the group made other recommendations related to the board’s scope of activities.

The group recommends that the CPRB should be able to offer advice or recommendations to the police chief after reviewing appeals of complaints as needed, and that the board’s scope should also allow for it to include community engagement about the board’s role.

Another recommendation related to the board’s scope aims for more transparency by calling for the CPRB to notify a complainant of its recommendation when submitting it to the city manager, who also should be included among those who are notified when a final decision is rendered.

Board structure

Most considerations in this section received a mixed consensus. The one unanimous recommendation is that the board shouldn’t be combined with the Human Relations Commission, as “a single board would likely lead to a weakening of both individual boards’ strengths.”

A pair of recommendations with mixed support in this section earned endorsements from seven members of the group: that the CPRB needs to have established training modules or courses and that there should be established guidelines for communication between the board and the public. Eight group members supported another recommendation calling for the CPRB to be allowed to receive confidential information with the proper training and credentials.


According to the report’s conclusion, the work group is encouraging the city to move forward with all of its consensus recommendations, while recognizing that it’ll take some time for commissioners to deliberate and work with city staff to draft any ordinances or resolutions related to future action.

“Ultimately, the type of work that the (work group) performed during its time together is work that does not have an ‘ending,'” the report’s conclusion reads. “The task of finding new ways to increase police accountability and oversight while allowing them to perform their essential functions is complicated, and there are no easy answers. The (work group) is proud of what it has accomplished and it is proud to say we did so with all members remaining through to the completion of the project to produce this consensus report.”

The agenda for Tuesday’s meeting doesn’t call for any action from commissioners beyond receiving the final report. The next steps from here will be for the City Commission to consider the recommendations included in the report and direct city staff on any next steps. 

In other business, commissioners will:

• As part of the meeting’s consent agenda, consider approving a special use permit for a temporary shelter at 200 Mount Hope Court.

The request comes from Lawrence’s Family Promise organization, which wants to convert a longtime day care building into a shelter for homeless families. The permit earned a unanimous recommendation from the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission in January.

• As part of the meeting’s consent agenda, consider authorizing the city manager to sign an interlocal agreement between the City of Lawrence, Baldwin City, Eudora and Douglas County to jointly operate and maintain the Douglas County Emergency Communication Center providing 911 emergency communication services.

The City Commission in May 2023 agreed to a new recommended financing model for the joint operation and maintenance of the Emergency Communication Center, and the new agreement would supersede the agreement between the city and county that’s existed since 1994. Under the standing agreement, the county pays 24% of those costs and the city 66%, with Eudora and Baldwin City allowed to participate.

Under the new agreement, the county would pay a base share of one-third of the cost of the ECC, with the three cities paying a share of the remaining expenses based on their respective populations. For Lawrence, the share of the cost to operate the ECC reflected in the 2024 budget is $2,366,000. Each city would also pay a 10% administrative fee. 

The agreement would also restructure the existing 911 Advisory Board to provide more formal governance functions, such as reviewing operating and capital budgets and evaluating performance.

The Lawrence City Commission will convene at 5:45 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St. A live stream of the meeting can also be viewed via Zoom or the city’s YouTube channel.


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