Update, 9:37 a.m. Thursday, March 10: The CPRB meeting has been canceled. City facilities are closed Thursday because of the snow. We’ll share an update when the meeting is rescheduled.
Lawrence’s Community Police Review Board is set to review a draft proposal that could reconfigure the board, leading one member to resign over what she sees as an effort to turn the board into little more than “window dressing.”
At its meeting Thursday, the CPRB will review a project charter for a new Community-Police Oversight Task Force that would review ordinance revisions proposed by the CPRB and assess the existing complaint policies, procedures, and systems.
CPRB members had sought direction from the city commission last fall after working for months on a revised ordinance that would have expanded its duties. The CPRB was established in 2018 to review racial or other bias-based complaints made against the police department. But under the current ordinance, the CPRB doesn’t review a case unless it is appealed within 14 days of a decision. The CPRB has yet to review a complaint since the board was launched.
Despite continuing to review drafts into the fall, city commissioners did not move forward on ordinance changes at their meeting in January, instead proposing a comprehensive review of the existing process.
In an effort to get clarification, three CPRB members met in February with Lawrence Police Chief Rich Lockhart and Assistant City Manager Brandon McGuire. After the meeting, member Jane Gibson submitted a letter of resignation from the board, citing what she believes is a move away from transparency after statements from Lockhart that the LPD and CPRB are like competing companies that don’t share information.
“My view is that the community and LPD are not in competition … nor do they stand as equals in a marketplace,” Gibson said in her Feb. 20 resignation. “The community employs and authorizes the LPD to enforce the law fairly and equitably. In an ideal state, the community and LPD should be seen as partners in securing peace and safety in civic life.”
The metaphor seemed to be a departure from the way city staff viewed the reworking of the board in earlier talks.
“We are in this together. We are on the same team,” McGuire told the board in July. “The police (department) is on the same team as this board; we share a lot of interests.”
Task force proposal
The CPRB had sought to expand its duties to include review of all complaints levied against the LPD rather than limiting that review to cases that had been appealed after resolution by the LPD.
The newly proposed Community-Police Oversight Task Force was spurred by a comprehensive management study of the Lawrence Police Department that consultant group Citygate completed in May 2021, which included the recommendation to establish a larger study group.
In a section specifically addressing the CPRB, the Citygate report referenced a lack of trust between the LPD and CPRB, and said that “both sides” should “stop unilaterally creating new versions” of the ordinance.
“… We are concerned that its adoption at this time, given the lack of trust in the relationship between some in the Police Department and the CPRB, would be problematic and would likely lead to more confusion,” the report says. “This frustration has existed since the CPRB was first created and over the initial operating period has worsened to the point where the CPRB has singularly drafted and begun community conversations on an expanded operating ordinance.”
CPRB members, however, wrote to the city commission that they felt the consultants lacked the background knowledge to understand the process of how the revised ordinance came to be, which was largely at commissioners’ direction.
The proposed oversight task force would include some members of the CPRB, five community members, the police chief and a commander, and two representatives of the Lawrence Police Officers’ Association (the police union).
Task force meetings would be closed to the public in order to “encourage open and candid discourse among the members,” the project charter states, unless all seven of the CPRB members serve, which would require the task force to follow the Kansas Open Meetings Act.
Among the messages sent by Gibson upon her resignation were emails to multiple city officials, including city commissioners. In them, she expressed confusion and frustration regarding the future of the police oversight in Lawrence. In a message to Commissioner Amber Sellers, Gibson asked for leadership in pushing through the revised ordinance and to “support the community’s long-standing desire for an active and functioning CPRB.”
In her email reply, Sellers said that police accountability had been a focus of her attention since Breonna Taylor was shot and killed by Louisville, Kentucky, police almost two years ago. Sellers said that any attempts to stall the CPRB’s work would not be tolerated, but she said she believed there was room to improve the system established in Lawrence four years ago.
“I don’t want this to be a two-decade fight as was the case in Louisville,” Sellers wrote. “If Lawrence, through the work of the CPRB, wants a truly comprehensive police review and accountability process, then I want to make sure we can say with unflinching conviction that we did that and was inclusive in the process at every step of the way. In my opinion, we are close, but not quite there.”
On Thursday, the CPRB is also set to receive the LPD’s biannual Bias-Based Policing Complaint Report, which shows one incident since July 1. That incident, reported Jan. 13, was investigated by the LPD’s Office of Professional Accountability. According to the report, the officer was exonerated Jan. 19.
The CPRB meeting is set for 6 p.m. Thursday, and it will livestream on the city’s website and its YouTube page. See the full agenda at this link. Register to participate or give public comment during the meeting via Zoom at this link.202203-CPRB-project-charter
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Andrea Albright (she/her), reporter, can be reached at aalbright (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.