Proposed changes could scrap some work of Lawrence’s police review board

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More than a year of work by Lawrence Community Police Review Board members to engage with the community and revise the ordinance that outlines the board’s duties may have been for nothing.

A resolution up for consideration at Tuesday’s Lawrence City Commission meeting would essentially scrap the draft ordinance that CPRB members and city staff members and attorneys worked to refine.

If approved, a work group that has yet to meet will start from scratch, making amendments to the ordinance as it currently exists.

The work group was formed to review the CPRB’s draft ordinance and the Lawrence Police Department’s current complaint process to collaborate and determine the best path forward.


The current ordinance that outlines the CPRB’s duties only allows members to review community members’ appeals of the Lawrence Police Department’s decisions in complaints about bias-based policing. That’s such a limited scope that the board members have not reviewed any actual appeals since the CPRB was formed in 2018.

Members may receive complaints from the public, but they must forward them on to the department for an internal investigation. They do not have the authority to investigate complaints, or to ask questions “beyond the scope of information necessary to ensure that the Complaint form is properly processed.”

In the wake of local and national protests over police brutality and killings in the summer of 2020, the Lawrence City Commission directed CPRB members to reinvigorate its mission, review best practices, and make revisions to the ordinance in order to positively impact racial equity and public safety in the city.

They worked on the draft for many hours over the course of several monthly public meetings for more than a year, sometimes seeking further answers and clarification from the city attorney’s office and other city staff members. They also did community engagement work to seek public feedback, including a Lawrence Listens survey.

The draft would have allowed board members to review all investigations into community members’ complaints about the police, rather than just appeals of specific types of complaints.

As CPRB member Stephanie Littleton said in January, “What we want is to be able to have transparency, to see the complaints; to be able to tell the community that (LPD is) doing a proper job in the way that they’re handling the complaints.”

Lawrence police complaint investigations

Documents filed in a federal civil case against LPD and the city recently revealed some details about how some of the department’s complaint investigations worked at the time the CPRB’s draft ordinance was in progress. Read more about that at this link.

The CPRB sought to expand the seven-member board to nine members so they could engage in more meaningful subcommittees. The draft also expanded the board’s advisory duties to include advising on all department policies rather than solely those dealing with racial and other bias-based policing, and it allowed the board to request that the city manager seek a third-party investigator to review a complaint, among other changes.

An outside consultant, Citygate, completed a review of LPD in May 2021 and suggested that the CPRB stop its efforts to draft an ordinance, and rather join with the police department to form a task force to determine the best way to move forward. 

The CPRB members continued their work and wrote a letter to the Lawrence City Commission later that year, seeking clarity on how they should proceed with the ordinance they’d been working on in light of Citygate’s recommendation. They noted that they felt Citygate “failed to meaningfully consider the extensive process of public feedback and community collaboration that the Board has already undertaken.”


One CPRB member resigned in February 2022 over her belief that “the board will likely remain the window dressing it was designed to be” under the current ordinance.

In the time since the draft ordinance became as close to complete as it got (the board intended to finalize it to seek City Commission approval after they received more input from affected parties), all but one of the CPRB members who engaged in that work have either resigned or their terms have ended.

The CPRB in May 2022 approved a project charter to create the new Community-Police Oversight Work Group (CPOWG), which includes representation from the police department and was intended to review the CPRB’s draft ordinance and assess the existing complaint policies, procedures and systems.

The Lawrence City Commission approved the project charter in June, and in August, appointed five community members to serve on the work group, which also included two members of the Lawrence Police Officers’ Association (police union), two members of the LPD command staff, and three members of the CPRB. The city on Sept. 27 entered into a $20,000 contract with a consulting team to facilitate the new work group.

Some community members who have spoken at CPRB meetings have regularly voiced their concerns that LPD command staff members and police union leaders will try to prevent the community board members from expanding their authority. Some have said they think the police will stand in the way of meaningful reform.

The CPOWG’s work should have been completed in November 2022, had the project stuck to its original schedule. The work group was finally set for a first meeting in January, but that was canceled because of lingering questions about membership.

New resolution

The resolution the Lawrence City Commission will consider on Tuesday strips language tasking the CPOWG with reviewing the CPRB’s draft ordinance from the work group’s responsibilities.

The memo accompanying the agenda item states that “Challenges with appointments to the Work Group and the delays in commencing its work have caused staff to bring forward for the City Commission’s consideration a resolution identifying the membership of the work group and streamlining its work.”

“In an effort to encourage progress of the Work Group, staff recommends the Governing Body remove the expectation that the Work Group focus on previously submitted ordinance amendments, and instead, allow the Work Group to determine its own suggestions for ordinance amendments for improving the complaint process and enhancing citizen oversight,” Assistant City Manager Casey Toomay wrote in the memo.

The revision also includes the names of four CPRB members, four community appointees, two LPD command staff members and two police union leaders who will serve on the work group, rather than including generic descriptions of the membership categories.

The work group will still conduct a thorough review of LPD’s existing complaint process, according to the memo.


City staff members hope the resolution will “energize the Work Group so it can commence the very important work of building trust between the Lawrence Police Department and our community,” Toomay’s memo states.

In addition, the resolution states that staff members from the city manager’s office, city attorney’s office and the office of diversity, equity and inclusion will be available to assist the work group with technical knowledge and project support.

“The Governing Body encourages the Work Group to work collaboratively and creatively to bring forth proposals that will best serve the Lawrence community and the City of Lawrence employees, unmoored to any specific draft proposal or ordinance framework,” the proposed resolution states.

The resolution was not discussed during the CPRB’s last meeting on March 9.

See the full agenda item below.

The Lawrence City Commission will meet at 5:45 p.m. Tuesday, April 4 at Lawrence City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St. See the full meeting agenda at this link.

The commission accepts written public comment on agenda items emailed to through noon the day of the meeting. People may provide public during the meeting in person at City Hall or via Zoom; register for the Zoom meeting at this link.

City Commission meetings are open to the public and livestreamed on the city’s YouTube channel.

The CPRB currently has five of seven seats occupied. The mayor appoints CPRB members, and the appointments are confirmed with Lawrence City Commission votes. The application to serve on the board can be found by clicking “Apply” at this link. The board’s next meeting is set for 6 p.m. Thursday, April 13.


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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.

Related coverage: Lawrence Community Police Review Board


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