June 17, 2021
Lawrence, US 91 F
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Lawrence Police Department needs better training on racial and cultural divides, report finds

Of all racial and ethnic groups, Black women have the worst interactions with the Lawrence Police Department, some community members interviewed for a consultants’ report said.

“White and African American participants expressed concern about the Department’s lack of diversity and its ability to adequately serve the needs of all residents,” according to the report, compiled by Citygate Associates. “African Americans shared stories of unwarranted traffic stops, unprovoked harsh behavior, and unjustified arrests.”

The report notes, too, that “Native American participants shared interactions that highlighted limited knowledge of their culture in general and stressed the importance of cultural competency.”

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The Lawrence City Commission hired Citygate for $118,000 in October 2020 to gather data, conduct meetings with the public and stakeholders and formulate recommendations for LPD to provide service that’s responsive to community expectations. 

The report, based on listening sessions with members of the community and other stakeholders, urges the department to become more culturally competent, better engage with the community and put in place firm metrics and measurable goals.

Citygate on Thursday submitted its 138-page report, which contains 75 recommendations. It will be the subject of a special city commission meeting at 6 p.m. Tuesday. Though it doesn’t seem to be an intentional choice, that date marks the one-year anniversary of George Floyd’s murder by Minneapolis policeman Derek Chauvin. 

‘Almost universal overlap’

The report also emphasizes a need for legitimacy and procedural justice. People want to give police their side of the story and be treated with respect — not dismissed or demeaned, Citygate says. It recommends that LPD emphasize education and training to address racial and cultural divides.

It seems that some community members have felt disenfranchised and therefore did not file formal complaints about police behavior that could have been investigated. A lack of formal complaints — especially complaints of bias-based policing, which must be reported to the Kansas attorney general’s office — can hinder public accountability. 

“In our listening sessions with members of the community, Citygate learned that of those who had negative encounters with the Department, no one filed a complaint with the Department,” the report says. “Many told us they lacked confidence in the Department to investigate its own officers, and others maintain their stories would not have been believed given their race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or gender identity.”

Though most white people told Citygate they’d had positive experiences with LPD, all Black people interviewed for the study, with the exception of one woman, said they’d had negative experiences.

Citygate acknowledges that LPD conducts implicit bias training, on a semiannual basis, that goes beyond state requirements for bias-based policing training. However, the report says this falls short because it’s not part of a larger strategic plan to institutionalize equitable policing and increase cultural competency. 

Citygate notes that its findings are not “statistically significant” for the city’s whole population because consultants spoke with a relatively small number of people – about 100 over 24 focus groups. However, the report says, there was “almost universal overlap and very common themes” in all discussions, and therefore Citygate believes the report reflects the views of a diverse portion of the community. 

Community Police Review Board

Some of the key changes Citygate recommends involve how complaints are handled within LPD as well as what the Lawrence Community Police Review Board’s role should be. Citygate notes a “significant level of mistrust” between the LPD and CPRB, and specifically that LPD members lack confidence in the CPRB. 

During the CPRB’s listening session with Citygate, “some (members) even questioned the need for a board, given a perceived lack of involvement and cooperation from the Department,” the report states. 

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For the past few months, the CPRB has been crafting a new ordinance expanding its duties and allowing it to review all complaints and completed investigations, beyond its current scope. However, Citygate says the CPRB and LPD need to work together — specifically, by forming a workgroup — to design a system based on best practices. That workgroup should include the CPRB, police chief, a representative of the police union, city attorney “and at least three minority residents of Lawrence,” the report says. 

“The overarching purpose of a CPRB is to be the forum for two-way community communication and transparency on police practices, policy updates, and complaints,” the report states. 

That can include providing a place for community members to share concerns about policing, helping improve internal investigations by reviewing them, fostering communication and even mediation with the public, reviewing use-of-force data and more, the report states. 

Missing metrics

The report notes that the city and LPD should establish measurable and reportable goals for response time, case load, case clearance and other basic metrics of that nature. In addition, there are no measures tied to the city’s strategic plan. 

“Measuring requires multiple steps, from front-line supervision to annual employee evaluations, to the requirements on promotional exams, to transparency using public oversight. Quality and consistency come from a systems approach, not any single element,” the report states. 

An issue that has come up in CPRB meetings is a lack of data on complaints that are handled informally by officers’ direct supervisors. “There is no tracking as to when an officer or policy is failing due to multiple, informal complaints,” the report notes.

LPD is currently implementing new software systems, IA PRO/BlueTeam, that will help to track officer conduct and complaints. The system can create “early warning indicators” in the system if dangerous patterns emerge for a staff member. The report does not include whether existing complaints can be input into the system to retroactively begin watching for red flags. 

In “formal” complaints, LPD’s Office of Professional Accountability asks complainants to fill out and sign a written form. Citygate recommends that LPD increase accessibility to file complaints by creating a fully online complaint form that can use an e-signature. 

Other takeaways from the report:

• Alternative services needed: Participants shared concerns about how to address mental and behavioral health crises, as well as how to address those who are experiencing homelessness. Citygate says all department staff, especially sworn personnel and public safety dispatchers, should be trained on trauma-informed policing practices. “Officers also should have a firm knowledge of local social service providers so they can make informed referrals without defaulting to arrest,” the report states. 

The city, Douglas County and Criminal Justice Coordinating Council partners are working to launch a mobile crisis response team that will be available and deployed during peak hours for those types of calls. 

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• Recruiting troubles: LPD believes the issue of police perception has impeded recruitment. Among other concerns, the training unit is concerned that they could face opposition if they attempted to recruit on college campuses, and that prospective applicants might not want to be seen engaging with police recruiters. 

In addition, “We know there are no plans to increase the number of applicants for any demographic, and the reason given for this was the current challenge of finding qualified applicants period, regardless of the demographic,” the report states. 

• Changes in national legislation: The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2021 is currently stalled, but it would ban officers from using any chokeholds or holds that restrict the flow of oxygen or blood. 

LPD policy currently restricts the use of carotid control holds and chokeholds, or “respiratory restraints,” to circumstances where “deadly force is authorized.” However, the Citygate report seems to refer to policies that were last in effect in an October 2020 policy manual and have since been updated.

In other areas that the law could change, LPD is already meeting or exceeding what would be required of departments that receive certain grant funds. 

More management on the ground: LPD has not identified minimum staffing levels for frontline supervision and midlevel management, and the patrol division tends to have less experience than others — in March, 54% of patrol officers had less than five years of experience, for instance. 

Citygate recommends adding two more patrol lieutenants to enhance oversight and accountability, and to ensure that administrative demands can be fulfilled in a more timely manner, especially as it relates to customer service. Plus, “It stands to reason that violations of policy and the potential inappropriate use-of-force incidents are greatly reduced when a supervisor is present.”

• Top call types need proactivity: The report notes that the top four types of high-priority calls, from January 2017 through October 2020, were domestic disturbance, domestic battery, car accidents and overdoses. Citygate recommends the city work toward proactive approaches to reduce those types of calls. “It should not go unnoticed that three of the four largest call types are social issues.”

The Lawrence City Commission will meet at 6 p.m. Tuesday. Watch the meeting here or on the city’s YouTube page.

Register here to provide public comment during the meeting. Written public comment must be submitted to the city clerk’s office by noon Tuesday to make it into the agenda. Email ccagendas@lawrenceks.org or drop comments marked for the city commission in the utility billing dropbox at Sixth and New Hampshire streets. 

— Mackenzie Clark (she/her), reporter/founder of The Lawrence Times, can be reached via email at mclark@lawrencekstimes.com or 785-422-6363.

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