Wichita City Manager Robert Layton
Wichita City Manager Robert Layton (right) presented possible changes to the structure of the Citizen’s Review Board during a meeting on Feb. 24. (Alex Unruh/The Beacon)

The Wichita Citizen’s Review Board could issue independent reports on allegations of police misconduct for the first time under changes proposed by the city last week.

How board members are appointed and the length of their terms would also change under a proposal offered Feb. 24 by Wichita City Manager Robert Layton.

The 13-member board, created in 2017, works with the Wichita Police Department to develop policies and reviews complaints of misconduct after they are investigated by WPD’s Professional Standards Bureau.

Under proposed changes, the board would be able to issue public reports detailing its own findings on misconduct complaints after reviewing the conclusions of internal investigations by Wichita police. 

Currently, the board can only announce whether it supports or opposes the findings of the Professional Standards Bureau.

“The board would have the authority to issue a report after it’s completed its review of the case and they can talk about its findings and recommendations,” Layton said during the CRB meeting on Feb. 24.

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. 

Layton also highlighted proposed changes to the board’s membership. Currently, the city manager appoints the board members, who serve a four-year term. The change would split the appointments — seven for the mayor and City Council and six for the city manager.

Under the proposal, board members would also serve two-year terms instead of the current four years.

Three seats on the board are vacant, while the terms of three members are expired. Under the proposed changes, the terms of all members will end by June 30 but some could be reappointed, Fowler said 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 March 1, the city lists 21 expired or vacant positions.

Board wants to meet privately with complainants 

Layton and the board differed over whether to allow people who file complaints to meet with the board privately. 

Layton said residents are allowed to address the board about their complaint during an open meeting. But they aren’t able to talk privately with the board during an executive session. The names of officers involved in misconduct complaints are not publicly released.

“That way you can hear from the resident before you go into an executive session so you can hear their concerns,” Layton said. 

But Jay Fowler, chair of the board, said having a person who filed a misconduct complaint speak in public wouldn’t allow them to protect their identity from law enforcement.

“If they make a point in a public session, we have now disclosed what we’re not supposed to disclose,” he said to Layton. “I would ask if there’s some flexibility on that.” 

The consensus of the board during the Feb. 24 meeting was to change the board’s operating procedures to allow a person who filed a complaint to attend an executive session. Layton said that change would need to be studied by the city’s law department.

“I’m trying to think of timing and get this in front of the council,” Layton said. “I’ve been kind of anxious to get to a conclusion so we can get this adopted by the council.”

The proposed changes, which are revisions to the city ordinance that created the CRB, must be approved by the City Council after two readings. The council will consider the changes during its April 5 meeting, Layton said in an email to The Beacon. Fowler said he expects the revised ordinance to be in place within 60 days.

Usually, the Citizen’s Review Board meets on the last Thursday of the month. But the board scheduled its first-ever special meeting for March 10 to discuss a case involving 11 Wichita police officers who allegedly exchanged inappropriate texts in an app.

According to the agenda, the messages were discovered by Wichita police during an investigation of a domestic dispute involving a Sedgwick County sheriff’s deputy.

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Stefania Lugli serves as the KLC Journal’s civic engagement reporter, with a primary focus on coverage of the Latino community in Kansas in collaboration with Planeta Venus, a Spanish-language newsroom...