Community-Police Oversight Work Group discusses hopes, concerns at first meeting

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To the relief of its members, the Community-Police Oversight Work Group met for the first time Monday. Members shared their hopes, concerns and needs to move the process forward.

The work group is intended to review the Lawrence Police Department’s current complaint process and make recommendations for the Community Police Review Board’s oversight of the complaint process. (Read more on the background at this link.) The group’s work was originally supposed to conclude in November, but the process has been delayed.

The city on Sept. 27 entered into a $20,000 contract with Jonathan Morris of J Morris Consulting to facilitate the work group.

He led Monday’s meeting, where 10 of 12 of the group members were in attendance.

Morris said he consults across the country, but this is a “home gig” for him. He said he’s especially interested in this group being successful. 

“I’m delighted to have the opportunity but also doubly invested in this work,” he said. 

They had a discussion about the group members’ individual reasons for being there. Afterward, they broke into small groups to discuss their hopes and concerns as this process moves forward. 

“I’m a Black woman, and I’m terrified of being the next Sandra Blank, or any of the other fatalities that have happened across the country,” said community representative Jacqlene Nance-Mengler. “I believe that this process will help for folks to feel like they’re being included, for their dignity to be respected.”

Community representative Alex Kimball Williams said it’s important to her to use storytelling to take narratives and make action. She has worked with displaced tribes, and reparations are important to her. 

“I think that reparations, they involve money, but they also involve public acknowledgement, a chance to share their concerns, platforms to speak,” Kimball Williams said. “These are reparational frameworks, and so that’s why it’s important for me in my limited time — I was like, ‘Well, this sounds like something that aligns with what I’m trying to build.’” 

Ian McCann, vice chair of the Lawrence Police Officers Association, said he thinks the work group is important because he thinks some community members feel like the police think they’re above them, and some police officers have the perception that the community is out to get them when they haven’t done anything wrong or don’t think they have.

“So I think it’s just working on that trust and offering that environment to be able to share our experiences on both sides,” McCann said. 

Community Police Review Board member Brenda Clary said she is interested in coming to a process that will ensure complaints are handled in the best way possible so the community has confidence in the process.

Community representative Harrison Baker said he’s a strong believer in taking responsibility for one’s own actions and owning up to mistakes. He said he believes in restorative justice rather than “vindictive justice,” but holding people to account is important.  

“If community members have no sense of redress, they will just have feelings that keep getting worse,” they said. 

One small group was concerned that the CPOWG will get bogged down and won’t be able to reach a consensus. Another said they were concerned that people wouldn’t be able to see from each other’s perspectives, and another had concerns about privacy of both police department employees and people who make complaints about them. 

CPRB member Greg Tempel said he was hopeful after the first meeting, based on the diversity of the members, the differences that people are seeing and the group’s ability to bring it all together. 

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Morris gave the group “homework” to reread the project charter, and to think about how to map the complaint process. He told them to think about what resources they need to be informed and educated about the complaint process in order to clearly map it out. 

Group members said a flowchart of the current process would be helpful, potentially using complaints that have been resolved and hypothetical complaints. 

The work group will have several more meetings, including two community conversations. Morris said he’s planning for those to be large-scale events that will focus on public input, rather than be dominated by him or group members.

Ultimately, the CPOWG will present a product to the Lawrence City Commission. There’s no set date for that yet, Morris said. 

The next CPOWG meeting is set for 6 to 8 p.m. Monday, June 5 in the Jayhawk Room at Fire Station No. 5, 1911 Stewart Ave. The meeting will also be available via Zoom, but registration is required. A registration link should be posted along with the meeting agenda ahead of the meeting. 

Meetings are open to the public, but public comment will be reserved for the community conversations. July 10 is a tentative date for one of the community conversations. 

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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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