Lawrence City Commission approves nixing draft ordinance from community-police work group’s charge

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Lawrence city commissioners on Tuesday voted to drop from a work group’s charge the review of a draft ordinance that the Community Police Review Board and city staff worked on for more than a year.

City staff members asked the commission to approve a resolution to change the tasks of the Community-Police Oversight Work Group, which was formed to review the CPRB’s draft ordinance and the Lawrence Police Department’s current complaint process, collaborate, and determine the best path forward.

Now, the work group members may consider the draft ordinance if they choose to, but it will not be part of their outlined purpose.

The work group’s tasks were supposed to be completed in November, had the project stuck to its original schedule. Read more of the background at this link.

The memo accompanying the agenda item stated 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.”

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.

The draft ordinance 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. Board member Stephanie Littleton said of the draft ordinance 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.”

Mayor Lisa Larsen on Tuesday asked city staff whether the work group will be able to recommend changes to the ordinance as it currently stands.

“That’s what I’m interested in, as part of this whole process, is to also look at the ordinance, to strengthen the ordinance, because I don’t think we have a very strong ordinance at all,” Larsen said. City staff confirmed that the CPOWG will be able to do that.

Littleton on Tuesday encouraged commissioners to reconsider eliminating review of the draft from the CPOWG’s work. She mentioned the community engagement work the CPRB members had done while revising the ordinance, including receiving responses from hundreds of people in a Lawrence Listens survey.

“I feel like we should not allow their voices and our efforts to go unheard,” Littleton said. “The draft ordinance should be an important resource for the work group relative to improving the complaint review process, which is one of the primary duties, and with assessing and making recommendations regarding the CPRB’s role and authority and serving in an advisory, oversight, and/or review capacity.”

The resolution also names the specific group members who will serve on the CPOWG. Littleton also asked the commission to reconsider the membership list and appoint to the work group.

The membership list includes four out of five of the current CPRB members, four community appointees, two LPD command staff members and two police union leaders.

Littleton, who has served on the CPRB since it began meeting in its current form in 2018, was the only current CPRB member not included on the list, though she had been one of the original members to indicate that she was interested in serving prior to several CPRB members’ resignations.

Larsen asked commissioners if they would entertain adding Littleton back on to the CPOWG “because I do think we’re missing out on a significant amount of history that is not on that work group,” she said. The second longest-serving CPRB member has been on the board since June.

Ultimately, the commission voted unanimously to approve the resolution as it was written, not including Littleton on the CPOWG.

Commissioner Brad Finkeldei said he viewed the resolution as broadening the CPOWG’s scope. He also said he supported leaving the membership list as city staff presented it “so we have that fresh look.”

The CPRB’s next meeting is set for Thursday, April 13. The CPOWG has yet to meet.

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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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