City to consider police union contract that includes changes to complaint procedures, pay raises for officers and detectives

photo by: Nick Krug

A Lawrence police vehicle is pictured in a file photo from December 2017.

City leaders will soon decide whether to approve a new contract with the union that represents the Lawrence police.

As part of its meeting Tuesday, the Lawrence City Commission will consider approving a one-year agreement with the Lawrence Police Officers Association that fully funds the existing pay plan for officers and detectives and makes some changes to other provisions of the contract. That includes a change to the “due process” provision regarding investigations of police and detectives completed by city administration and the police department’s internal affairs division, which investigates both internal and public complaints.

The city’s employment agreement with LPOA covers wages, benefits and working conditions for officers and detectives and expires at the end of this year. The proposed contract for next year comes after an abbreviated contract negotiations process that both city management and LPOA representatives say was an extension of the current contract with only minimal changes, as the Journal-World recently reported. City and LPOA representatives said they decided to forgo the typical contract negotiation process in March because of the coronavirus pandemic. City management staff and the police union representatives met privately five times regarding the extension and came to an agreement regarding the contract late last month.

A city staff memo to the commission states that city management requested the LPOA bargaining group consider renewing the current agreement due to the stay-at-home order put in place in March and gathering limits of 10 or fewer people, as well as the unknown economic impact of the pandemic. Though the city did not submit any contract changes, the LPOA did submit a list of seven issues for discussion. The issues were submitted based on a survey of LPOA members that indicated they did not feel comfortable or confident merely extending the current agreement “as is” through 2021.

The first concern noted by the LPOA in its letter requesting contract discussions was due process regarding internal investigations. The current contract states only that the city agrees to provide appropriate due process and guidelines for administrative investigations through department and city policies and procedures. The proposed contract addition would add that any LPOA member who believes his or her due process was violated in an administrative investigation may file a written complaint to the alleged violator’s supervisor, and lays out some procedures for doing so. The proposed addition also notes that LPOA members can pursue a grievance related to the outcome of an administrative investigation by following existing policies in place for all city staff.

Regarding why the LPOA felt it was necessary to make those additions to the contract, LPOA Chair Bill Bradford said in an email to the Journal-World that if the city’s policy is not being followed in regard to disciplinary procedures there should be an avenue for an employee to work with the city to address and resolve it.

“In any organization accountability should flow in all directions not just downward,” Bradford said.

The Journal-World recently reported that the LPOA wrote a letter to former Chief Gregory Burns expressing concerns about lengthy periods of leave for department employees facing internal investigations, among other concerns. Bradford did not specifically respond as to whether the requested contract addition was related to those concerns, but he did state that when possible administrative investigations should be completed in a timely manner. When asked for recent examples of ways the LPOA feels due process has been violated, Bradford said it would be improper to discuss individual personnel issues but that the conversations with the city management team during negotiations had been productive and the LPOA feels the issue has been resolved.

Assistant City Manager Brandon McGuire said that city management agrees with Bradford’s statement regarding the need for police and detectives to be able to file a complaint if they feel city policy is not being followed during disciplinary procedures. Other proposed changes to the contract include clarification regarding procedures for infectious disease, the shift assignment process and furloughs, as well as compensation regarding time officers spend training at the shooting range, among other changes. A redline version of the proposed contract, showing all changes agreed to by city management and the LPOA, is available as part of the commission’s agenda materials.

The proposed contract would fund the existing pay plan, which provides annual pay raises for police and detectives. If approved, the anticipated fiscal impact for 2021 is a net increase of approximately $235,000 for the 2021 pay plan, plus approximately $6,000 in compensation for off-duty time spent at the shooting range, according to the memo.

The memo also acknowledges recent national and local advocacy regarding police reform, including obstacles to accountability and reform that can be written into police collective bargaining agreements. The memo states that in response to those issues, city staff reviewed the LPOA agreement against recommendations for police contracts provided by Campaign Zero, a national organization with the goal of ending police violence. The campaign has identified various contract characteristics and provisions that are problematic for police accountability, and the city states the LPOA contract does not contain any of those problematic provisions.

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 prevent 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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