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Lawrence police chief shares information on complaints about officers

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Lawrence Community Police Review Board members appeared pleasantly surprised Thursday evening to hear a summary of complaints made against Lawrence police officers in the past few months. 

Though a written report to accompany the complaints that new Police Chief Rich Lockhart shared was not included in the meeting agenda, the board members heard some details about citizen complaints that had been lodged against officers this year.

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It was a stark departure from what the board has heard since it was established in 2018 with a narrow scope: to review appeals of decisions the police department makes about bias-based policing complaints. There have been zero such appeals. Board members have expressed frustration over the scope of their assignment and the consequential inability to push for greater accountability and transparency from LPD. 

Board members have been working on a revised ordinance to expand their duties, largely based on those concerns. But Monday, Lockhart opened by sharing summaries of complaints received about officers. 

“I made the decision and after the February meeting that we were going to report to you all complaints received each month,” Lockhart said, then jumped straight into his report

  • In January, a complaint that an officer had made an illegal U-turn was sustained. An officer was exonerated of a bias-based policing complaint related to looking for a shoplifting suspect. 
  • In February, an officer was exonerated after a complaint that they had been rude during a welfare check, Lockhart said. An officer is working through the disciplinary process after LPD sustained two conduct policy violations and one body-worn camera violation. 
  • In March, the department received two complaints. “One had to do with a domestic investigation and identification. That one was exonerated. The identification part was unfounded. And then we also had an excessive use of force complaint that was exonerated as well,” Lockhart said. 

Board member Marie Taylor said the transparency of Lockhart’s report was “the first we’ve had in the years of reporting where we’ve asked, ‘Is it possible to have more details and context for the complaints?’” 

“We really didn’t need to change the ordinance in order to have that kind of good working relationship between police department and the board,” Taylor said. “And this is proof that we can make this system work even under the current ordinance that we have. So I just want to thank you for that.”

The May meeting agenda will include a summary of all complaints from January forward. 

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Following Lockhart’s report, board members began discussing a draft of a task force plan to revise a project charter for a new Community-Police Oversight Task Force that would review the draft ordinance and assess the existing complaint policies, procedures, and systems.

Former board member Jane Gibson resigned in February over what she saw as an effort to turn the CPRB into little more than “window dressing.” Her letter of resignation described a conversation between a few of the board members and Lockhart, who joined LPD in January. 

In her letter, Gibson wrote that Lockhart had said the draft ordinance was “dead in the water.” 

On Monday, prompted by CPRB Chair Jenny Robinson, Lockhart explained that comment.

“It was a comment that was made while we were having very frank discussions about process and what we should look at. It was not a comment that should have been made. It was wrong, and when I’m wrong, I admit that I’m wrong,” Lockhart said. 

“… I don’t believe it’s ‘dead in the water.’ I don’t get to decide that; the (City) Commission decides that. But I am supportive of things that are there, and I’m supportive of a working relationship with the Community Police Review Board that promotes greater trust for the police department and greater openness for what we’re doing.” 

He also noted that he thought being able to bring an ordinance to the Lawrence City Commission with the support of the community, the CPRB, the Lawrence Police Officers Association (police union) and himself would be a “win” for all involved.

Board members made some progress in their review of the task force project charter. They broke at 8:30 p.m. with plans to pick up where they left off at their May meeting. 

They might also have a new member at that time. As part of the Lawrence City Commission’s Monday meeting agenda, Mayor Courtney Shipley is recommending that James Minor be appointed to the board.

The CPRB generally meets on the second Thursday of the month starting at 6 p.m. Meetings are livestreamed on the city’s YouTube channel

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Mackenzie Clark (she/her), reporter/founder of The Lawrence Times, can be reached at mclark (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

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