Lawrence City Commission asks staff to research more recommendations for police oversight board

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Lawrence city commissioners on Tuesday took no action on recommendations from a work group to improve the Community Police Review Board, instead directing city staff to do further research and return to the commission in April. 

The Community-Police Oversight Work Group was tasked with evaluating the process to handle complaints against the Lawrence Police Department. They were asked to make recommendations for the complaint process and the CPRB’s oversight of those complaints.

Three members of the work group presented their recommendations to the commission: Amilee Turner, a CPRB member; Harrison Baker, a community member; and Ian McCann, chair of the police union, the Lawrence Police Officers Association. 

The group’s recommendations, included in a 40-page report, were divided into three categories. Green recommendations had consensus approval from the 12-person work group. Yellow items reached some consensus. Red items received no consensus. 

The green recommendations that the commission forwarded gave more oversight of complaints against the police department to the CPRB. Currently, the board is limited to reviewing appeals of the police department’s findings in complaints about bias-based policing. Because of this, the CPRB has not reviewed any actual appeals since its formation in 2018. 

If implemented, the green recommendations would allow the CPRB to examine appeals in any significant complaints lodged against the police department, extending beyond instances of racial or other bias-driven policing. (Read more about all the recommendations at this link.)

Commissioners decided to ask city staff to look into advancing the green items, either at the staff level or by returning to the commission for further action in April. They also asked staff to do research on the yellow and red items and return their findings to the commission.

Cuyler Dunn/Lawrence Times Community-Police Oversight Work Group member Harrison Baker speaks to the Lawrence City Commission. Behind him is Ian McCann, chair of the Lawrence Police Officers Association.

The work group held 12 meetings, including two community conversations. The work group includes five community members appointed by city commissioners, three CPRB members, two police officers, and two police supervisors. 

McCann said reaching a consensus in a group of 12 people was never easy. But the work group allowed them to sit down, discuss and decide on the green recommendations.

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But Baker told commissioners that they shouldn’t ignore the yellow and red recommendations. He said the lack of consensus from the work group didn’t necessarily preclude those tiers from having good ideas.

Mayor Bart Littlejohn, Vice Mayor Mike Dever and Commissioner Brad Finkeldei all said they wanted more research and guidance from city staff on yellow items before they moved forward.

Commissioner Amber Sellers asked the work group members who presented Tuesday whether they felt the group had accomplished what it wanted to. She said the work group zoned in on the complaint process with their recommendations and didn’t include as much on other CPRB responsibilities. 

Baker said he had mixed feelings. Although the group’s recommendations weren’t perfect or all-encompassing, he felt confident in what they did focus on. 

Turner said she felt good about the group’s recommendations. She said they would help aid the CPRB, inform the public and simplify the complaint review process.

She said the CPRB needed more support and the work group’s recommendations were “the tip of the iceberg.”

Sellers expressed frustration at the lack of action taken Tuesday night. Because city staff only researched the green recommendations, commissioners didn’t take action on any of the yellow or red items because they wanted further guidance. Sellers said if staff looked at the green items, they should have looked at yellow and red items as well. 

“We as commissioners had to look at this as a whole,” Sellers said. “And the idea that we were just going to come in here and rubber stamp the green ones is insulting to me, and it’s insulting to the work group and the work that they did.”

Dever agreed with Sellers and said he wanted to see the process move forward. 

Commissioner Lisa Larsen said she thought all the recommendations need to be looked at, but she wasn’t ready to give staff direction because that wasn’t what the action in front of the commission was Tuesday — the action was just to receive the work group’s report. 

Cuyler Dunn/Lawrence Times Mayor Bart Littlejohn, Commissioner Lisa Larsen and Commissioner Amber Sellers

Some community members expressed frustrations over the slow pace of the process. The work group, appointed in August 2022 and long delayed, began meeting in May 2023 with the initial goal of concluding its work within four months. However, the group didn’t approve the final report until nine months later. 

During that time, the CPRB hasn’t met and currently only has four of seven seats filled — just enough to have a quorum.

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Some members of the public said the continued delays, including pushing further action to April on Tuesday night, only continued the lack of police oversight.  

“When will the town commission say, ‘the Community Police Review Board needs to begin meeting?’ Effective what date?” Steven Watts said. “This whole process, the whole purpose, was to stop a public view of the police. That’s all this has been about. And we continue to sit here and do nothing and listen to this stuff.”

Chris Flowers said during public comment that the commission could have expanded the scope of the CPRB years ago if that’s all they wanted to do. He said the commission needed to make sure they looked into the yellow and red recommendations. 

“What was the purpose of all this?” Flowers said. “Like, if the only change that comes from this is the city now allowing non-racial complaints to be reviewed, then what was the purpose of all this?”

The commission did decide to keep the CPRB separate from the city’s Human Relations Commission. Another city work group’s recommendation that the CPRB merge with the HRC received strong opposition from the Community-Police Oversight Work Group members. 

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Cuyler Dunn (he/him), a contributor to The Lawrence Times, is a student at the University of Kansas School of Journalism. He is a graduate of Lawrence High School where he was the editor-in-chief of the school’s newspaper, The Budget, and was named the 2022 Kansas High School Journalist of the Year. Read more of his work for the Times here.

Related coverage: Lawrence Community Police Review Board

Lawrence City Commission asks staff to research more recommendations for police oversight board

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Lawrence city commissioners on Tuesday took no action on recommendations from a work group to improve the Community Police Review Board, instead directing city staff to do further research and return to the commission in April. 

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