Lenexa formally establishes Community Advisory Board to oversee police department

Lenexa Police Chief Dawn Layman, right, says she welcomes the transparency that should come with establishing a Community Advisory Board as an official public body. Resident Milton Jeffrey has served on the board for the past 15 years, when it's been an informal group. Photo credit Leah Wankum.

Lenexa has formally established a Community Advisory Board to serve as a liaison between the Lenexa Police Department and residents.

While the group has existed informally since the early 2000s, the Lenexa City Council’s unanimous move Dec. 7 to officially establish the board comes at a time police agencies in Johnson County and beyond are facing calls for more transparency and public engagement.

The Community Advisory Board will advise the police department on a variety of prominent issues, including addressing potential bias in policing, use of force, responses to mental health crises and homelessness, among others.

Police Chief Dawn Layman, who cited her goal to increase transparency when she was appointed to lead the department last winter, said formalizing the board is just one of many steps that will build more trust with the community.

“It’ll be a win-win,” Layman said. “I think anything that we can do to either let people understand what we do, how we do it, maybe why we want to do something, those opportunities, if we open those up, those people can be real allies for us, and just understand the process.”

Other police departments in  Johnson County have similar advisory boards, including Overland Park and Shawnee.

Advisory board meetings will be open to the public

Lenexa Police officers helped decorate cupcakes at its Cocoa with Cops event last year. Photo courtesy city of Lenexa.

The formal advisory board plans to meet at least four times a year. All meetings will be open to the public except when sensitive personnel issues or other privacy concerns covered by Kansas law may be covered.

The board will also have meeting minutes for the public to access and review.

Chief Layman said the formal advisory board will conduct meetings that will be open to the public. File photo.

Layman said her predecessor, Chief Ellen Hanson, was ahead of her time when she established the informal advisory board in the early 2000s.

Since that time, Layman said she sees the board’s input as “invaluable” to police work, such as in use of force cases.

Milton Jeffrey, a Lenexa resident who has served on the Lenexa Community Advisory Board for about 15 years, said the existence of the board, even as an unofficial group, over the past two decades reflects “great leadership” at the police department.

“It’s great to be able to have the audience and public participation,” said Jeffrey, adding that the board embraces the idea of garnering new interest and garnering more public input. “I think it’s an improvement. We are raising awareness, and just having the opportunity to dialogue with the community.”

Applications open after the new year

Advisory board members may make appearances at community police events like this one, when officers handed out popsicles at the Lenexa Farmers Market. Photo courtesy city of Lenexa.

Layman said she hopes formalizing the board can help attract new members.

Board members may also make appearances at police community events so the public can meet them, ask questions and build relationships.

Layman noted that the advisory board hears more than just negative things that police officers need to improve upon.

“They get to see both the positive impacts that our officers have every day, and they get to see when our officers are berated, the things they have to endure,” she said. “They get a full perspective of everything.”

The board currently has six members but will have seven with staggered terms. Current members will be grandfathered in and set on staggered terms.

The city will begin seeking applications early next year for new members to serve on the Community Advisory Board. The majority of members must live or work in Lenexa.