Lawrence City Commission to consider review and reform of police use-of-force policies

photo by: Chris Conde/Journal-World File Photo

A Lawrence Police Department vehicle is seen in this file photo from September 2018.

Updated at 5:37 p.m. Monday

City leaders will soon consider whether to commit to a public review of the Lawrence Police Department’s use-of-force policies, including the department’s policies regarding deadly force.

As part of its meeting Tuesday, the Lawrence City Commission will consider adopting a resolution committing the city to reviewing and as necessary revising police use-of-force policies, according to a city staff memo to the commission. The topic comes to the commission after Mayor Jennifer Ananda, in the wake of protests against police killings of Black people and calls for reform, requested that the commission consider various changes related to use of force, systemic racism and other social equity issues.

The draft resolution that the commission will consider adopting Tuesday states in part that the commission is committed to the prosperity and well-being of all people and that racial inequity and injustice that affect any person in Lawrence is a threat to the well-being of everyone and must be addressed. The resolution goes on to say that the killing of George Floyd, a Black man who died after a Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee on his neck for nearly nine minutes, has led many municipalities across the country to commit to confronting long-standing problems, including racial injustice and law enforcement bias.

“While it deeply appreciates the dedicated men and women of the police department who work, day and night, often under very difficult and stressful conditions, to keep the community safe, the City also recognizes that the police department wields great power and that with that power comes great responsibility, including the ability to review and to revise those policies, customs, and actions that have or may have — even if it is unintentional — a disparate impact on people of color and other vulnerable populations,” the draft resolution states.

Ananda called for the commission to discuss the various issues regarding systemic racism and social equity at the commission’s meeting on June 9, including reforms to police policy and department operations, as the Journal-World previously reported. One of several potential actions the commission subsequently expressed interest in discussing was to consider authorizing the mayor to sign a pledge issued by the Obama Foundation, committing the city to review and revise the city’s use-of-force policy following a four-step process: to review the policies; engage the community to gather diverse input; publicly report the findings of the review and seek feedback; and to reform the policies. The resolution calls for the mayor to sign the pledge and for the commission to follow those steps.

The police department’s policy includes 17 factors to consider when determining the reasonableness of use of force and deadly force, as the Journal-World recently reported. The policies include some flexibility, and Lawrence police officers are trained to use de-escalation techniques “whenever possible.” Factors to consider regarding use of force include immediacy and severity of the threat, officer/subject factors such as size and relative strength, effects of drugs or alcohol, availability of other options, proximity of weapons, the risk of foreseeable consequences of escape, among others. The policy states deadly force may be used for officers to protect themselves or others from what they reasonably believe would be an imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury, or to stop fleeing subjects when the officer believes they have committed or intend to commit a felony involving serious bodily injury or death to any other person if they are not immediately apprehended.

In other business, the commission will consider recessing into executive session for approximately 30 minutes to discuss employer-employee negotiations. The justification for the executive session is to keep employer-employee negotiation matters confidential at this time, according to a city staff memo to the commission. City management have been in negotiations regarding the city’s contract with the Lawrence police union, as the Journal-World recently reported. When asked if the executive session related to the city’s employee contract with the Lawrence Police Officers Association, City Attorney Toni Wheeler said in an email to the Journal-World that she could not disclose more about the executive session than is in the motion. The City Commission was tentatively scheduled to consider the LPOA contract at its meeting Tuesday, but Wheeler said the contract is not on Tuesday’s agenda and will be on a later agenda. The commission’s meeting schedule now indicates that the commission will consider the LPOA contract at its meeting July 21.

The City Commission will convene virtually at 5:45 p.m. Tuesday, with limited staff members in place at City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St. The city has asked that residents participate in the meeting virtually, if they are able to do so, using temporary meeting procedures put in place to help stop the spread of the coronavirus. Directions for submitting public comment and correspondence are included in the meeting agenda that is available on the city’s website.

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