Community Police Review Board debates whether board should expand scope beyond race and other bias complaints

photo by: City of Lawrence

Board member Marie Taylor speaks to her fellow Community Police Review Board members and members of city staff as part of the board's meeting Aug. 27, 2020.

As members of the city’s Community Police Review Board continue to discuss changes to strengthen their review powers over complaints against police, some members disagreed about which complaints should be the focus.

As part of its meeting Thursday, the board continued its review of a working draft of potential revisions to the ordinance that lays out the board’s powers and how it operates. A working group previously brought forward potential changes to the ordinance, including a revision that would broaden the complaints handled by the board beyond racial and other bias-based complaints. That revision would expand the board’s scope to also include excessive use of force and other types of misconduct complaints.

Board member Marie Taylor agreed with the general consensus that the board should work to increase oversight of police complaints and strengthen engagement with the community, but said she thinks the board should maintain its focus on racial and other bias-based complaints. She said the board’s role should be to protect marginalized people in the community and not to take on other responsibilities that should not fall to a volunteer board.

“We know that statistically there is an overrepresentation of brown and Black people who have encounters with the police,” Taylor said. “It deserves special attention. And the consequences of this work help us undo structural racism.”

Taylor said the city and not the board should be the one to ensure all complaints are independently investigated. She said the board does not have the expertise to provide the proper oversight for all misconduct complaints, and that instead the city should establish an outside review, such as an independent auditing system, to look at all complaints.

Board member Jane Gibson said that by including a wider range of complaints, the board would be in a better position to identify patterns of police misconduct. Gibson said that police misconduct can arise from bias as well as other factors, and she thought the board should review all types of complaints as part of its goal to improve community relations with police.

“If we don’t have the whole picture, if we are not able to see what kinds of complaints arise in the community as a whole, then we undermine our ability to detect those very patterns,” Gibson said.

Board member Bill Graybill said that the types of complaints the board should be involved with was a fundamental question that required more discussion, and board members generally agreed that they should consider the question and be prepared to further discuss it at the board’s next meeting.

The board also said it would like to start getting community feedback on the potential revisions and the topics that it was discussing. To that end, the board voted to establish a community engagement subcommittee and appointed three board members to serve on that committee.

In other business, the board also created a new subcommittee to review policies and reforms, including police use-of-force policies and reforms advocated by Campaign Zero, a national organization with the goal of ending police violence. The board also voted to officially make the work group examining the ordinance into a subcommittee.

The board began its discussion of the working draft of the ordinance changes with a review from City Attorney Toni Wheeler. The board previously asked the City Attorney’s Office to identify any provisions in the proposal that may be contrary to existing law, and overall Wheeler said her office found very few concerns and that the overall goals were lawful.

The board has previously described itself as a “rubber stamp” for the police department. 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 currently 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 time frame. Currently, a division of the police department investigates complaints, and all bias complaints were determined to be unfounded and no appeals have yet been made.


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