A work group thinks the community should have more oversight of the Lawrence Police Department. Here’s how

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A work group is recommending that Lawrence’s Community Police Review Board should have more oversight of complaints against the police department. 

The Community-Police Oversight Work Group was tasked with reviewing the existing process for handling complaints against the Lawrence Police Department and making recommendations for that process, as well as for the Community Police Review Board’s oversight of complaints.

The current ordinance that outlines the CPRB’s duties only allows members to review community members’ appeals of LPD’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 work group consisted of five community members, each appointed by a Lawrence city commissioner; three members of the Community Police Review Board; two Lawrence police officers; and two Lawrence police supervisors. 

The work group first met in May 2023. The intent was to wrap up work within four months, but the group held their last meeting to approve the final report on Feb. 12. Some members of the work group will present the final report to the Lawrence City Commission on Tuesday. 

The group color-coded its recommendations green, yellow or red. Green recommendations had fairly strong support among most group members; yellow ones generally had some support and curiosity, and group members might want them to be reviewed further; and red ones generally had less support and some opposition. 

The group is encouraging the city commission to move forward with the green recommendations and would like to see further discussion and progress on other ideas, according to the report. 

Here are some key points from the work group’s 40-page report. 

Recommendations with strong consensus

The biggest change the work group recommends is that the CPRB should be able to review appeals of findings in all serious complaints against the police department, not limited to racial or other bias-based policing. That would include all level 1 and level 2 infractions. 

Level 1 infractions may include a criminal element: serious misconduct; violations of orders, policies or procedures; excessive force; racial and bias-based policing; sexual harassment; unlawful search and seizure; violations of civil rights and repeated level 2 violations. 

Level 2 infractions are less serious but can include policy violations, inappropriate conduct, failure to make a mandatory report or mandatory arrest, or repeated level 3 violations. 

There was mixed support but less for the CPRB to also review all appeals of level 3 infractions, which include allegations of rudeness, inadequate police service, profane language, minor traffic infractions. 

“Level 3 infractions are the same types of complaints that any City employee could face as a personnel matter, and police department representatives saw this level of complaint as a personnel matter that should not have more scrutiny than another city employee would have,” the report states. 

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When someone appeals LPD’s findings in a complaint, the work group wants the CPRB to notify complainants of the recommendation they make to the city manager, and the city manager should then notify LPD, the CPRB and the complainant of the final decision. They want to promote more transparency and confidence in the complaint process. 

The work group wants to expand access to the form used to file a complaint and educate the public that complainants may have a support person to help them with their filing. 

 They want to simplify and standardize the complaint form and appeal form to ensure all necessary data is gathered for each complaint. The form would include the option to provide demographic data, and trends in that data would be tracked and provided to the CPRB. 

The group wants to establish an option to make a complaint other than directly to the police department, and “neutral parties” who could accept complaints but not be advocates for the complainant. Some members were concerned that could lead to bias in favor of the complainant, and others had concerns about the logistics. One suggestion was that the neutral party be a member of the city’s Human Relations Commission, according to the report. 

The work group wants to make diagrams of the complaint and appeal process accessible to the public. Here are the diagrams from the report (click here to open the PDF in a new tab):

CPOWG-Complaint-process

The work group wants the city to educate the public about the complaint process after the recommendations are implemented. “Most members believed that an in-person event would be well attended with the proper advertisement and notice provided to the public. This perspective was supported by attendance at the WG’s community-conversation events held twice in the summer of 2023.” The CPRB’s role also should include community engagement about what the board does, according to the recommendations.

They want the police department to continue to provide the CPRB with monthly listings of all complaints, allegations and findings.

Ideas for further consideration

These recommendations received mixed levels of support from work group members. 

The complainant should be able to address the CPRB directly in a closed-door session to share their perspective of an incident. “This proposal generated concerns that it may introduce an investigative role for the CPRB as distinct from its recognized review capacity.”

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The CPRB should reconsider allowing people who have misdemeanors or felonies in their backgrounds to serve on the board: “this proposal recognizes that members of the community have pointed to the value in having someone with criminal history on the CPRB because of their differing experience with police contact. Concerns included the integrity of the CPRB and bias against the LPD,” according to the report. 

Codifying witness involvement: An eyewitness with firsthand knowledge of an incident can file a complaint, but only an involved complainant can file an appeal. That issue has been in question previously with the CPRB. 

Taking complaints over the phone would increase accessibility to the process and potentially make it possible to provide translation and disability services. 

Complaints that have been closed could be reopened if new evidence is found. “The WG thought that if patterns and trends emerge from subsequent complaints, this warrants reopening and investigating the prior complaint(s) in light of the new evidence.”

Written confirmation that a complaint was received should be issued to the complainant within 24 hours.

The ordinance should require that the police chief provide the results of the investigation in writing to both the complainant and the CPRB. 

The CPRB should have established training modules or courses. “A significant number of members thought that the current training is inadequate and suggested the addition of diversity, equity, and inclusion training (DEI) as the first module to be completed, as well as training on information pertaining to the complaint process, and training provided to board members on how to handle upset people at board meetings.”

The CPRB should expand to nine members from seven. 

Ideas with no consensus

Most of these ideas had some support but also some opposition. 

The item that received the most opposition was another city work group’s recommendation that the CPRB merge with the Human Relations Commission. “A single board would likely lead to a weakening of both individual boards’ strengths,” the report states. 

The CPRB should be allowed to ask police or other witnesses to answer questions during a closed-door session to review a complaint. 

The time limit to appeal a decision in a complaint should be extended. The current window is 14 days. “Half of the WG members were concerned that the current time period is not long enough for the average individual to figure out if they want to file an appeal. Some members were concerned about making it too long and the police never being able to close the complaints out.”

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“No active or retired police, including individuals married to active or retired police, should be able to serve on the CPRB.” Active officers are not currently allowed to serve on the board. 

The CPRB should follow up on withdrawn complaints. 

The CPRB should focus on policy review. “Supporters suggested that if the CPRB can review Levels 1 + 2 appeals, it should also review the policies that define those levels of infractions.”

View the complete report at this link

Some members of the work group will present their recommendations to the Lawrence City Commission during their meeting Tuesday. See the full meeting agenda at this link

The CPRB previously met every month, but its meetings have been on hold since the work group started. It was not immediately clear from materials in Tuesday’s agenda when the CPRB might resume meeting. 

Lawrence city commissioners will meet at 5:45 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 20 at City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St. Meetings are open to the public and livestreamed on the city’s YouTube channel, youtube.com/lawrenceksvideo.

People may submit written public comment to commissioners until noon the day of the meeting by emailing ccagendas@lawrenceks.org. People may also give public comment during meetings in person or via Zoom; register for Tuesday’s Zoom meeting at this link

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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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