City pursues outside study to inform ‘transformation’ of Lawrence police department
photo by: Chris Conde/Journal-World File Photo
City leaders are pursuing an outside study to help inform potentially fundamental changes to the role of the Lawrence Police Department, including proposals to move some funding and duties from police to social services.
All of the specific issues the study will tackle aren’t determined right now, but city leaders are expecting it to be broad in scope. In a recent request for proposals for a consultant to conduct the study, the city states that it wants a comprehensive report that will aid in the “transformation” of the police department in response to changing operational needs, community expectations and the national narrative around policing and race relations.
At a minimum, it’s expected the study will cover reforms called for by Mayor Jennifer Ananda, which her fellow city commissioners have indicated they would also like to consider. Following local and national protests earlier this year about police brutality and racial injustice, Ananda called for 12 potential reforms of the role of police in Lawrence. That includes re-evaluating what kinds of noncriminal behavior police should address and whether money spent on such enforcement should be spent instead on related public and social services — which, according to a city staff memo, could involve areas as diverse as public health, economic equality and environmental design.
But City Manager Craig Owens told the Journal-World that the study will likely cover more than just the issues Ananda and her fellow commissioners identified. Once the consultant is selected, he said, the scope of the study will be worked out in more detail.
“The list of 12 things that the mayor and the commission had talked about, those are the types of things that we would expect the consultant to be looking at, but I think the scope will expand well beyond that,” Owens said.
The study will likely examine at least two specific changes the commission is considering that would take some funds and duties away from the police department.
First, the commission has proposed establishing a mental health and addiction crisis response team and reallocating funds away from law enforcement to partners or employees in those areas.
Second, commissioners have questioned whether police should be responsible for addressing violations of city ordinances, such as complaints about noise, overgrown lawns and vehicle-related issues other than traffic violations. Similar to the first consideration, the commission will decide whether the funding dedicated to enforcement of those ordinances should be reallocated from the police to relevant city departments. The memo notes the city will need to consider the need for 24-hour response to complaints such as noise and vehicle issues.
The request for proposals also suggests that the study will cover oversight and accountability measures and ways to make policing fairer, more equitable and more culturally sensitive.
That might touch on issues raised by the city’s Community Police Review Board, which has previously called for changes to its own structure and powers. Because of the way the board was set up, it hasn’t been able to review any complaints against police since it was created roughly two years ago, as the Journal-World previously reported. Under current policies and practices, an internal division of the Lawrence police department investigates complaints against officers, and limited information is provided to the board and the public regarding complaints about bias and uses of force.
Other aspects of the study will have more to do with the internal workings of the police department, according to the request for proposals. Those include the goal of achieving accreditation from the Commission on Accreditation of Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA) and the city manager’s recruitment process and hiring decision for the new police chief. The study is also expected to serve as a guide for the new chief and the department’s new strategic plan.
Owens said there is not a specific budget for the study at this time — that will be hashed out when the scope of the study is determined and the consultant’s contract is negotiated. He said the cost of the study will probably be split between this budget year and 2021, and that there are adequate resources in the budget to cover the cost.
Multiple city bodies — including the City Commission, the Human Relations Commission and the Community Police Review Board — will be providing opportunities for the public to give feedback on potential changes to the role of the police and the city’s approach to addressing social issues. The city expects to announce dates for those events sometime this month. Proposals for the study are due Aug. 17 and will be reviewed by a selection committee consisting of city staff and community stakeholders, according to the request for proposals. Interviews with prospective consultants will be completed by Sept. 11, with selection of the consultant and negotiation of the agreement to occur after that.