Lawrence City Commission approves implementing recommended changes to police review process, including broadened scope of review

photo by: Austin Hornbostel/Journal-World

Members of the Lawrence City Commission listen to city staff during their meeting on Tuesday, May 14, 2024.

The Lawrence City Commission has approved an ordinance that will soon implement a number of changes to how complaints against police are reviewed, including one significant modification that substantially broadens the types of complaints that could be subject to review.

At Tuesday’s City Commission meeting, commissioners voted unanimously to adopt Ordinance No. 10046, which is based on the consensus recommendations of the city’s Community Police Oversight Work Group. As the Journal-World has reported, the work group spent years reconsidering the city’s process for handling complaints against police via the Community Police Review Board.

When it eventually made its consensus recommendations to city leaders earlier this year in February, one of the recommendations called for the board to have an expanded purview in reviewing complaints. The board has had limited review powers since it was created in 2018; it’s only been able to review complaints about racial or other bias-based policing.

But now, that scope is being broadened to allow the board to hear appeals not only related to bias-based complaints but also appeals related to “Level 1” infractions — serious complaints in which the officer’s alleged actions may include a criminal element, like excessive force or unlawful search and seizure — and “Level 2” complaints, which may include allegations that are less serious in nature such as inappropriate conduct or failure to make a mandatory report or arrest.

The changes will take effect Sept. 1, consistent with the effective date for other changes to city advisory boards and commissions approved by city leaders earlier this month.

Many of the changes stem from the group of 18 near-unanimous consensus recommendations from the work group earlier this year. Others relate to topics on which the group had reached more of a split decision, but that city leaders gave direction to analyze further the last time changes to the CPRB were discussed in February.

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As of 10 p.m. Tuesday, the City Commission’s meeting was still underway. Commissioners were at that time discussing whether to execute a pair of funding agreements with Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center for $412,098 and Mirror Inc. for $37,500 for their services as part of the city’s Homeless Response Team. Commissioner Brad Finkeldei abstained from the conversation because one of the funding agreements was related to Bert Nash, where his wife is employed.

The meeting agenda also called for a work session on the city’s partnership with the Harvard Kennedy School Government Performance Lab, which was slated to take place after business on the regular agenda had concluded.

Under a new agenda order approved by city leaders last week, the meeting’s general public comment period had also yet to occur as of 10 p.m. The period previously took place earlier in the agenda, typically within the first half hour or so of each meeting, but now is the third-to-last item on the agenda before adjournment.

In other business, commissioners:

* As part of the meeting’s consent agenda, adopted Resolution No. 7539, which temporarily suspends the enforcement of the city’s Land Development Code and sections of the building and fire codes that may be inconsistent with the use of land at The Village, 256 N. Michigan St., through May 31, 2027.

The resolution enacts the same provisions as one adopted last year, when development at The Village was still underway.

* Received a presentation on “Adapt Douglas County: A Climate Action and Adaptation Plan.”

Kathy Richardson, the city’s director of sustainability, told commissioners that the plan will be presented to the Douglas County Commission next week, when that group will also consider adopting it. From there, the plan would not only return to the City Commission for consideration at a future meeting but also to other communities throughout the county.


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