Lawrence City Commission approves police union contract that includes changes to complaint procedures, pay raises for officers and detectives
photo by: Chris Conde/Journal-World File Photo
City leaders have approved a new contract with the union that represents the Lawrence police, a move that city officials said would not hinder the city’s ongoing review of police operations.
As part of its meeting Tuesday, which continued past 1 a.m. Wednesday, the Lawrence City Commission voted unanimously to approve a one-year agreement with the Lawrence Police Officers Association that fully funds the existing pay plan for officers and detectives and makes changes to other provisions of the contract, including a new ability for officers and detectives to file complaints related to due process of internal investigations.
Amid local and national calls for police reform, the city is in the midst of evaluating operations of the police department, including how complaints against police are handled and whether some noncriminal issues should continue to be addressed by police. Assistant City Manager Brandon McGuire acknowledged the city’s ongoing review of the police department and the fact that union contracts in other cities have been criticized for having provisions that hinder reform. He said those issues are not specifically addressed in the LPOA contract and are instead addressed primarily through laws, ordinances and policies.
“There is nothing that we identify in this (memorandum of understanding with the LPOA) that would inhibit or prohibit us to make changes to those policies,” McGuire said.
In response to questions about the change to the due process provision, McGuire told the commission that the police department has a multi-page policy regarding how investigations of policy violations should be conducted. McGuire described the amendment to the due process provision as a simple one that allows officers and detectives to file a complaint if they feel investigations are not conducted within the department’s policy.
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 2021 contract includes an addition 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 contract addition states that any LPOA member who believes his or her due process rights were violated in an administrative investigation may file a written complaint to the alleged violator’s supervisor, and it lays out some procedures for doing so. The 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.
Ultimately, commissioners said they were comfortable with approving the contract, agreeing that it did not stop the commission from making changes and some also noting that the contract would be reconsidered again in a year. Mayor Jennifer Ananda, who has called for a far-reaching review of police operations and policies, said she agreed with city staff that the contract didn’t cover many of the reform topics of community concern and that approving the contract would not stop the city from making changes.
The contract for next year comes after an abbreviated contract negotiations process that both city management and LPOA representatives have said 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 on the contract late last month.
Other 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 contract, showing all changes agreed to by city management and the LPOA and approved by the commission, is available as part of the commission’s agenda materials.
The proposed contract fully funds the existing pay plan, which provides annual pay raises for police and detectives. 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.