Lawrence Community Police Review Board moves forward with ordinance to strengthen oversight of complaints, plans to seek community input
photo by: Journal-World File Photo
The Lawrence Community Police Review Board is wrapping up its process of drafting an ordinance to strengthen oversight of complaints against police and preparing to begin a public input process regarding the proposed changes.
As part of its meeting Thursday, the board voted unanimously to change or clarify several sections in the draft ordinance and is now scheduled to vote on advancing the draft for public comment at its next meeting. The changes aim to strengthen a board that members have said is ineffective at providing oversight in its current form.
Under its current setup, the board has previously described itself as a “rubber stamp” for the police department. The current ordinance governing the board — which was arrived at after a long debate that included pushback from the local police union — allows the board to review only complaints against police that involve racial and other bias and only if someone appeals the police department’s decision in writing within 14 days. If the board disagrees with the finding, it can recommend to the city manager that the department investigate further. The board has yet to review any complaints since it was created more than two years ago.
Under the board’s new draft ordinance, the board would review all complaints filed by residents against police and the police department’s investigation. In addition, the board would have the ability to conduct a preliminary review of complaints and to request an additional statement from the complainant if needed. Once the department’s investigation is complete, the board can request that the department do additional investigation if it determines it’s necessary. At the end of an investigation, if the board finds there is not enough evidence to support the department’s conclusion, then it can request an independent investigation.
In addition to the unreasonable use of race, gender, sexual orientation and other characteristics, the board also expanded the definition of bias to include socioeconomic status and housing status. That change was made because board members said people experiencing poverty or homelessness can also be subject to police bias.
“We’re raising our collective consciousness to be aware of bias-based policing with those people,” board member Jennifer Robinson said.
The board also voted unanimously to change or clarify several sections in the draft. Those included adding a requirement that an annual report provided by the police department to the board outlining complaints made by community members against police include a summary of the situation that occurred. Another change clarified that liaisons to the board, which include members of city staff and the police department, shall not be present when the board meets in executive session to review complaints unless invited. The board also clarified that the new ordinance would ensure that the board would regularly issue its own public reports summarizing complaints, investigations and their resolutions.
A working draft of the ordinance, which does not include the changes agreed to on Thursday, is included with the board’s agenda materials as are multiple redlined versions. The board agreed that the information it releases to the public for input should include a summary of the changes it has made to the original ordinance and a clean version of the new draft ordinance. A subcommittee of the board will meet between now and the next meeting to come up with more suggestions for a community engagement plan.
As part of the board’s next meeting on Dec. 10, the board will take a final vote on the draft ordinance and discuss its plans for community engagement. Ultimately, the board’s recommended changes will go to the City Commission for consideration.