Several vacancies on the Wichita Citizen’s Review Board prompted the panel to cancel its meeting at City Hall last month. (Matt Hennie/The Beacon)

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The Wichita Citizen’s Review Board canceled its meeting last week over growing vacancies on the panel and to allow more time to propose changes to its structure. 

The police review board was set to review two cases of alleged misconduct against Wichita Police Department officers as well as possible changes to how the board operates, according to the agenda for the Jan. 27 meeting.

The 13-member board, created in 2017, works with the department to develop policies and reviews complaints of misconduct after they are closed.

Currently, the board can only review use of force or misconduct complaints after the police department’s Professional Standards Bureau determines them as unfounded or sustained. A decision to review comes at the request of the police chief or a citizen involved in the claim. 

The board remains barred from publicizing its findings — it can only announce whether it supports or opposes the decision of the Professional Standards Bureau.

Restrictions on the board and its limited ability to review misconduct cases received attention last year as the city negotiated a new three-year contract with police. The agreement with the Fraternal Order of Police keeps all police disciplinary records confidential. 

Proposed changes to how the board operates would allow it to issue public reports and alert a person in advance of their complaint being reviewed.

A board depleted

Out of 13 members of the police review board, six seats are expired or vacant — three vacancies and three terms that expired in December. 

Jay Fowler, chair of the CRB, said board members cannot vote or participate in executive sessions if their terms expired. 

“Rather than review those cases with the limited number of members available, we decided to defer things until next month,” he wrote in an email to The Wichita Beacon. 

Last year, The Beacon reported that vacancies were causing problems for several city boards and commissions. As of Jan. 31, the city lists 23 expired or vacant positions

Civic boards can recommend policy changes to the City Council, hold public hearings and encourage impact. However, boards can only take action if a quorum — the minimum number of members needed for the panel to operate — is met.

City Manager Robert Layton said the police review board’s current vacancies are the city’s opportunity to change how members are selected. Currently, Layton selects all 13 members. 

“What’s come up over the last few months are concerns by the community that all appointments are made by the city manager,” Layton said. 

After two new City Council members took office in January, Layton held discussions with council members on who should make CRB appointments — him or them.

“I’m in the process of working with council on that,” he said. Layton added that there are also discussions on whether to shrink the size of the CRB. 

Sheila Officer, chair of the Racial Profiling Advisory Board, said a reformed appointment process is critical. 

“I don’t really think (the board is) beneficial because they rubber-stamp everything the city manager wants. Secondly, they don’t have any impact into the decision-making process,” she said.

Three possible changes to review board

Layton said he delayed his January presentation so he could include changes to the CRB ordinance with any modifications to how appointments are made to the board. 

He declined to discuss what direction the conversations are taking.

“I don’t want to judge it based on talking to a few of the elected officials. I’d like to make sure I talk to all seven and get their consensus,” Layton said. 

The city manager listed three possible changes he’s discussing with the police review board: 

  • When a case is under review, a notice will go to the person who filed the complaint to allow them the opportunity to provide additional information to the board beyond WPD’s staff report. 
  • The board will be informed on previous disciplinary action pertinent to a case involving WPD personnel.
  • Allowing the CRB to issue a public report post-review.

Layton said allowing the police review board to publish public reports is complicated by the confidentiality procedures outlined in the city’s new police contract. 

“We’re working on language so that they’d be able to still issue a report to the public,” he said. 

Officer said the possible revisions to the board are a good start. 

“When [they] give a report, what will it say? That’s the critical thing. What are they allowed to say? That’s what we’re fighting for, coming out of the closets with your secrets about who’s been disciplined the most,” she said. 

“Let’s not stop there.”

The Citizen’s Review Board is scheduled to meet at City Hall on Feb. 24.

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Lugli was a community watchdog reporter at The Wichita Beacon. She was a Report for America corps member.