In 2016, sparked by unrest in cities like Ferguson, Mo., and Baltimore, the city of Lawrence spent $20,000 to study police relations with the community. The city promised that the results of an online survey of city residents would be publicly released.
Three months after consultant Beth Clark sent in her final report, the city has yet to fulfill that promise. Furthermore, City Manager Tom Markus appears to have forgotten about it.
“I am reminded by the recent inquiry by the Kansas City Star that we should sit down with Beth Clark to get updated on the draft of her report,” Markus wrote recently in an email obtained by The Star through an open records request.
The city denied The Star’s request for a copy of the study because “it is not yet considered a final report.”
But Clark, CEO of Allegro Training and Consulting, said she sent the final version of her report in April. Records obtained by The Star show Clark sent the survey results on March 7 and the complete, final study on April 25.
“There’s no reason it can’t be put out to the public,” Clark said. “It’s completely done.”
Withholding the study results prevents conversations and progress on race and police relations within the city, said Trinity Carpenter, campaign director for Lawrence-based advocacy group Kansas Appleseed.
“I’m really frustrated because I know that there are those in the community and in Lawrence that do not have good experiences with law enforcement,” Carpenter said. “And that they’re given the opportunity to speak to that and that data is not being released … it is a lack of willingness from the city.”
Racial tension, Carpenter said, is a serious issue nationwide that public officials struggle to recognize in Lawrence.
“Almost universally the police invoke fear in the black community,” Carpenter said.
Racial tensions in Lawrence have been higher than officials realize, especially recently, she said.
In late May, a Lawrence police officer shot a black man at a traffic stop. Consultant Clark was angry that the study, which the city launched as a proactive measure, had not been released before the shooting.
“They’re going to look reactionary at this point,” Clark said.
Porter Arneill, Lawrence director of communications, cited “scheduling challenges” as the reason the survey results have not been presented to the public.
Clark was scheduled to present the survey results to city commissioners on May 8, but she said the city canceled the presentation.
“For some reason, they think that it needs to be presented to the city commission before it can be presented to the public,” Clark said.
In emails to city officials obtained by The Star, she suggested simply posting the survey results to the city’s website. Emails released to The Star did not show a response from the city.
Allegro Training and Consulting conducted an online survey in August and September. The survey asked respondents their opinions on the Lawrence Police Department, including whether officers appear biased. Respondents also were asked to provide basic demographic information such as race, age, and socioeconomic status. Results were expected to be available to the public in the fall of 2017.
Clark said she now is tentatively scheduled to present the survey results on Sept. 4 — a year after the survey was conducted.
“I think that they find this information potentially sensitive, more so than I think it really is,” Clark said. “They wanted to make sure that the way it is written and presented was legally OK.”
Carpenter said she sees this as an extension of existing transparency troubles for the city of Lawrence.
“The fact that repeatedly we’re asking for transparency and it’s not being given is a problem, because, to me, you give transparency if there’s nothing to hide,” Carpenter said.