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

photo by: Chris Conde/Journal-World File Photo

Lawrence Police Department vehicles are pictured during the University of Kansas Homecoming Parade in this file photo from Sept. 27, 2018.

City leaders have committed to a public review of the Lawrence Police Department’s use-of-force policies, with some emphasizing that the review would be just one piece of a larger evaluation.

As part of its meeting Tuesday, the Lawrence City Commission voted unanimously to adopt a resolution committing the city to review and, if necessary, revise police use-of-force policies, including the department’s policies regarding deadly force. Commissioner Lisa Larsen said she hoped the review would be part of a far-reaching evaluation of the Lawrence Police Department.

“I do hope — and I’ve asked this before — that this is just one part of us taking a top-to-bottom review of our police department in an effort to seek to evaluate all aspects of it,” Larsen said. “I think it would just be healthy for the police as well as our community to see that.”

Like other cities across the country, Lawrence has seen thousands of people protest this spring and summer against police brutality and systemic racism. In addition to a protest in which thousands of residents marched down Massachusetts Street, a group of protesters recently occupied a section of Massachusetts Street for several days. Some residents have called for the city to reevaluate its budget, moving money away from the police department and providing it instead to social services.

Commissioner Stuart Boley added that he would like the city’s Community Police Review Board to be involved in the review as well. Boley said the commission needed to empower and rely on the board, and he asked what the point of having the board was if that were not the case.

“I think it’s very important that we rely on the Community Police Review Board as we go forward and look at these kinds of policies,” Boley said. “I think that if we don’t empower them, then they will have a hard time functioning.”

The topic of a review of police policy came to the commission after Mayor Jennifer Ananda, in the wake of national and local protests, requested that the commission consider various changes related to use of force, systemic racism and other social equity issues. At the commission’s meeting June 9, Ananda called for the commission to discuss the various issues regarding systemic racism and social equity, 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 was to consider authorizing the mayor to sign a pledge issued by the Obama Foundation, committing the city to review and revise its 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 reform the policies. The resolution adopted Tuesday 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 a use of force and deadly force, as the Journal-World recently reported. The policies include some flexibility and officer discretion. For example, Lawrence police officers are trained to use de-escalation techniques “whenever possible.”

Commissioner Courtney Shipley asked about the timeline for the review, and City Manager Craig Owens responded that there wasn’t a set timeline currently, but that the process could certainly be complete within the next six months. Shipley asked if the commission could be given regular updates on the review as part of the city manager’s report to the commission at each meeting, and Owens said that could be done.

City Commission Meeting 07/07/20


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