Article updated at 5:40 p.m. Wednesday, June 8:
The Lawrence City Commission on Tuesday approved a plan for a work group that will revise how complaints against Lawrence police officers are handled and reviewed.
The existing Community Police Review Board has long wanted greater authority than the scope that city law currently allows — a scope so narrow that since the board was created in 2018, it has not reviewed a single complaint. The current ordinance only allows CPRB members to review appeals of the police department’s decisions in complaints about bias-based policing.
Starting in 2020, at the direction of the Lawrence City Commission, board members began drafting an ordinance that expanded its duties. But an outside consultant’s review of LPD, completed about a year ago, suggested that the CPRB and police department form a task force to determine the best way to move forward.
The CPRB last month approved the project charter to create the new Community-Police Oversight Work Group, and the city commission’s approval of it this week will set the project in motion.
The work group will review the CPRB’s draft ordinance and assess the existing complaint policies, procedures and systems.
The group will comprise two members of the police department’s command staff, two members of the police union, three members of the CPRB and five additional members of the public. Staff members from the city manager’s office, city attorney’s office and the office of diversity, equity and inclusion will also assist the group but will not vote on issues. A facilitator will guide the work.
Vice Mayor Lisa Larsen asked why there would be two members representing both the command staff and the police union.
“The main reason is just to make sure that we can have some redundancy, so if there’s a scheduling conflict, if somebody has a vacation or some sort of work travel, that there’s a second that can still attend the meeting and represent that particular group of stakeholders,” Assistant City Manager Brandon McGuire said.
Those four members will each have a vote, though McGuire said he was hoping the group would make its recommendations based on a consensus rather than any split votes because the process is intended to be collaborative.
Each of the five city commissioners are now tasked with selecting a member of the public to serve on the work group. Those appointments will likely be approved by commissioners on consent agendas of meetings in the near future.
Commissioner Amber Sellers said she has pushed back in the past because the city has viewed the consultant group’s report and the CPRB’s draft ordinance as two separate policy pieces and through separate lenses when they need to be viewed together. She also has wanted to ensure this work going forward includes diverse feedback from the community.
She said the city has people who are willing to do this work if it is being done right, and if they believe the city will have the type of Community Police Review Board they think it should have.
“I feel like this is the first step that’s doing this right in bringing a group together that can truly shape the system and process around police accountability, how we review incidences, and giving me that feeling, that sense of ‘safe and secure’ I truly believe that we have here in Lawrence,” Sellers said, referencing the city’s strategic plan goal of “Safe and Secure.”
Larsen said she would strongly recommend that the city select a facilitator who is trained in mediation to guide the process.
“I think it will make a huge difference on how well we can bring all the work group together to come to the consensus that we want to work towards,” she said.
McGuire said he thought it would be possible to have a facilitator on board within a month.
The project charter lays out a tentative timeline for the work group to begin convening in early August, provide a mid-project briefing to the City Commission in mid-September, and submit a final report to the full CPRB and city commission in November.
According to the charter, the work group will determine how to engage the public in its process.
McGuire said via email Wednesday afternoon that “We anticipate the work group meetings being open to public attendance and the work group establishing rules for how the meetings will be conducted.”
Here’s the full charter as approved by the city commission:20220607-Community-Police-Oversight-Work-Group-charter