Lawrence City Commission approves outside study of police department to inform potential changes to police duties
photo by: Chris Conde/Journal-World File Photo
City leaders have approved a contract for an outside study of the Lawrence police department to inform their consideration of fundamental changes to police duties.
As part of its meeting Tuesday, the Lawrence City Commission voted unanimously to authorize a professional services agreement in the amount of $117,833 with Citygate Associates for a comprehensive study of the department and creation of a new master plan. Though some commissioners questioned the makeup of the consultant team and some aspects of the study’s approach, commissioners agreed the study was an important step for the community and would be responsive to the commission’s goals.
Mayor Jennifer Ananda said that in the discussion with the consultant, she’d heard significant commitment to the commission’s priorities.
“I think that seeing movement and engaging movement is vital, so I would be inclined to support Citygate as we move forward with this process,” Ananda said.
The study will consider significant changes to how the police department operates, including the possibility of shifting some duties away from police and decriminalizing certain municipal violations. The city advertised a request for proposals for the study in July following local and national protests about police brutality and systemic racism and Ananda’s subsequent calls for the city to consider various reforms. Ananda called for 12 potential reforms, which her fellow commissioners also later agreed to consider, including re-evaluating what kinds of noncriminal behavior police should address and whether money spent on such enforcement should be spent instead on related public and social services.
Though she supported the study, Commissioner Lisa Larsen said she had reservations regarding the project team, which she said includes several current or former police personnel and has few people with experience working on equity issues. Larsen said the commission’s concerns about inequity in policing need to be fully evaluated.
“I do hope that the project team will ensure that there’s a very in-depth evaluation of the equity and disparity issues that face us today, as well as in history, and that becomes an important part of how they move forward with this evaluation,” Larsen said.
Commissioner Courtney Shipley said she thought that Lawrence wanted to be a leader in progressive policies. She told the consultants that she wanted to ensure the city wasn’t limiting itself to just complying with best practices in policing.
“I think I hear from my other commissioners that we are wanting to shoot for the stars and be conceivably a leader in change,” Shipley said.
In response, Tim Hegarty, a member of the consultant team, said he recognized that there are significant problems in policing and that one of the best practices in policing is to constantly question best practices and learn from things that didn’t work.
The final product of the study will be the master plan for the police department, which will include recommendations and strategic direction for the department’s future development.
In other business, the commission approved spending general fund dollars to make up for a projected $110,000 deficit in the city’s special alcohol fund, which goes to support several social service organizations. As the Journal-World previously reported, the Special Alcohol Fund Advisory Board recommended that the commission not decrease the planned distributions for 2020. Collections for the fund are down following health orders related to the coronavirus that closed bars and restricted some alcohol sales.