Community Police Review Board begins drafting changes that would increase review powers

Members of the Community Police Review Board, city staff and a member of the public take part in a virtual meeting on Aug. 13, 2020.

The city’s police review board that has previously described itself as a “rubber stamp” for the police department has begun the process of drafting changes to give the board more review powers.

As part of its meeting Thursday, the Community Police Review Board reviewed a sub-committee report on potential revisions to the ordinance that lays out the board’s powers and how it operates. Subcommittee member Jane Gibson told her fellow board members that the potential changes the subcommittee has come up with thus far aim to address some of the board’s concerns about transparency and accountability regarding complaints against police.

“We broadened the scope of the kinds of complaints that the board would hear and we changed the point when the board would get involved in a complaint, so we would get involved much earlier in the process,” Gibson said.

As the Journal-World previously reported, the board, which the Lawrence City Commission set up two years ago, has examined none of the at least 25 complaints against police because of limitations on its review powers. Because of the way it is structured, the board is only allowed to review complaints against police that involve racial and other bias, and only if someone appeals the police department’s decision within a certain timeframe. All bias complaints were determined to be unfounded and no appeals have yet been made.

Should an appeal be made, the board would have limited review power and recourse. Currently, the board can only review the police department’s own investigation of the complaint and send a recommendation that the city manager review the complaint. The City Commission spent months debating the ordinance and received pushback from the local police union, the Lawrence Police Officers Association, about several of the provisions before ultimately deciding on the current structure.

The potential changes brought forward by the subcommittee would significantly expand the scope of the board. Instead of only reviewing appeals of bias complaints, the recommended revisions call for the board to have the power to review excessive use of force and other types of complaints from the public. The board would have the ability to conduct a preliminary review of complaints, accept a statement from the complainant, and to review completed complaint investigations. If deemed appropriate, the board could request an independent investigation.

Some of the draft changes also address membership of the board. The draft changes call for increasing the board’s membership from seven to nine members so that the board could form several subcommittees that could work on other police-community issues. Board member Marie Taylor also raised concerns about the qualifications for board membership, in particular provisions that ban people with certain criminal histories. Taylor noted the disproportionate local incarceration rates based on race and that such qualifications could disenfranchise some community members from participating in the board. Other board members shared her concerns and said they would like to consider changes to the qualifications section of the ordinance.

The board also spoke with city staff participating in the virtual meeting about getting community input about the powers and function of the board, and it was agreed that the board would pursue options including virtual community forums and community surveys to gather that input throughout the revision process. That includes potentially getting feedback on the general goals of the ordinance changes and a draft of the changes.

The board requested for the city attorney’s office to review the draft changes that the subcommittee has come up with so far to see if there are any state laws that prohibit or have bearing on those changes. That review will come back to board at its next meeting on Aug. 27, in which the board will continue to discuss potential changes to the ordinance.


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