Lawrence police report 1 bias complaint in past year; no appeal made to new citizen oversight board
photo by: Nick Krug
The Lawrence Police Department received one racial or other bias-based policing complaint over the past year, the department reported to a citizen oversight board this week.
After receiving the complaint in September, the department’s Office of Professional Accountability investigated and closed the matter in May, according to the report. The involved officer, who was not named in the report, was exonerated.
That report — covering the period from July 1, 2018, to June 30, 2019 — was among items considered Thursday night by the city’s recently established Community Police Review Board.
In its first year, the board — comprising seven volunteer community members — received no public appeals relating to racial or other bias-based policing, according to its own annual report. The report says board members spent most of the year getting established, learning ordinances and training on topics such as police policy and state open meetings laws.
With the board’s approval, its annual report will be presented to the City Commission, and the police department’s annual racial and bias-based policing report will be sent to the state attorney general’s office, as is required every year, assistant city manager Diane Stoddard said.
The racial and bias-based policing report does not include details about the allegations that police investigated in the single case.
Board chairman Tony Mitchell praised support by the city and police for the new group’s efforts and offered suggestions for next steps, according to written remarks shared at the meeting.
“It is fortunate that Lawrence has an effective police force, and that the police force, as reflected in the lack of complaints of bias-based policing, enjoys the general support of the citizens of Lawrence,” Mitchell said. “Conversely … the Board should not be content to await complaint, but should continue to inquire into the state of police-community relations and to pursue potential avenues by which the relations may be improved.”
Mitchell suggested that, going forward, the police department should:
• Further strengthen its outreach program “by identifying minority centers of influence, and proactively reaching out to these centers.”
• In light of Kansas allowing open and concealed carry of guns, consider how to “make the public more aware of the threat felt by police officers and how citizens may best defuse tension during routine interactions with police.”
• Consider whether to create a citizens’ police academy to educate community members about police functions and responsibilities.
As for the board, Mitchell suggested that it consider inviting minority groups to appear at routine board meetings “to foster enhanced communication.”
Also at Thursday’s meeting, Stoddard said, police leaders answered the board’s questions about whether officers get training on interacting with the LGBTQ community.
They do, as part of their annual racial or other bias-based policing training, according to a police memo. Stoddard said police also reported that the department is working on appointing a liaison to the LGBTQ community.
Established in 2018, the Community Police Review Board calls itself “an independent, accessible, and efficient means for which the public may submit a complaint of alleged police misconduct in a confidential manner.”
The board replaced the city’s former Citizens Advisory Board for Fair and Impartial Policing, which could only review summaries of complaints provided by the police department.
The new board can accept police misconduct and bias complaints from the public, which it then forwards to the police department’s Office of Professional Accountability for investigation. The board also can review the findings of bias investigations, in closed session, if the person who filed the complaint disagrees with the findings and submits a written appeal.