Lawrence city staff will review police oversight work group’s recommendations and determine how they could be implemented

photo by: Austin Hornbostel/Journal-World

From left, Harrison Baker, Ian McCann and Amilee Turner — three members of the Community Police Oversight Work Group — present to city leaders during the Lawrence City Commission's meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2024.

Lawrence leaders are asking city staff to determine how the city could implement recommendations from the work group tasked with reconsidering the City of Lawrence’s process for handling complaints against police.

At Tuesday’s Lawrence City Commission meeting, city leaders heard a presentation from members of the Community Police Oversight Work Group about its recently completed final report, which as the Journal-World reported includes 18 consensus recommendations. The work group has been working toward Tuesday’s report since midway through last year, following multiple delays and the suspension of the Community Police Review Board, the group that’s actually responsible for reviewing complaints made against police.

Commissioners didn’t take any action in the form of a vote Tuesday, but they did direct city staff to review those 18 consensus items and determine which of them can be handled by staff on its own and which items may require an ordinance. The results of that review will be shared at one of the City Commission’s meetings in April.

City Attorney Toni Wheeler said legal staff had only had access to the report since the meeting agenda was published last Thursday. However, she said legal staff thought all of the consensus items were achievable, and she also agreed with the plan of action commissioners settled on.

“I think that is a better course than having us trying to read minds about ‘Well, I think the commission wanted this; Commissioner (Amber) Sellers wanted to see this, but I didn’t hear anybody else on the commission say that,'” Wheeler said earlier in the meeting. “It puts staff in a very difficult position to read the minds of five people who have very strong opinions on this, like members of the public have.”

Perhaps the most significant recommendation aims to broaden the CPRB’s scope so it can review a much wider range of complaints than what’s currently allowed under its limited purview — only reviews of police’s investigations of racial or other bias-based complaints.

The work group is proposing that the CPRB instead be allowed to hear appeals about all “Level 1 and Level 2” infractions. “Level 1” infractions include a criminal element to an officer’s alleged actions that could damage the city, the department and its personnel’s reputations, and it includes actions like racial and bias-based policing, excessive force and unlawful search and seizure.

“Level 2” infractions, meanwhile, are allegations of misconduct of a less serious nature.

Other recommendations from the group involve making the complaint process more transparent and easier to understand. Commissioners on Tuesday did immediately agree to one specific piece of guidance from the list — that the city’s Human Relations Commission and the CPRB shouldn’t be combined.

Those 18 items weren’t the only ones in the report, and they’re also not the only options that are set for further review. The work group considered 48 possible recommendations, and the majority received mixed reviews from group members. City staff will also review those items, then provide some analysis and identify which of them need further direction from commissioners.

Three members of the work group presented to commissioners Tuesday, including Harrison Baker, who said the group’s overall focus ended up being on the complaint process, in part because of the many “hot-button topics” that surface when discussing police accountability.

“… The recommendations that are in the report — especially the 18 consensus items — I think goes a long way in improving the CPRB process,” Baker told commissioners. “And again, it’s not going to be perfect, but it definitely helps, especially the expansion of the ‘Level 1’ and ‘Level 2’ complaints.”

In other business, commissioners:

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

With the City Commission’s approval, Lawrence’s Family Promise organization can now move forward with converting a longtime day care building into a shelter for homeless families.

• As part of the meeting’s consent agenda, authorized City Manager Craig Owens to sign off on 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.

As the Journal-World reported, the new financing model would supersede an agreement between the city and county that’s existed since 1994. The new agreement would increase the county’s share from 24% to one-third of the cost of the ECC, with the three cities paying a share of the remaining expenses based on their respective populations.

The agreement needs a stamp of approval from all four participating governing bodies in order to be executed. The Douglas County Commission is set to consider the agreement as part of its meeting agenda this week.


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