A group of civil rights organizations has put forward a five-point plan advocating for police departments in Johnson County to increase transparency and accessibility, especially when it comes to giving residents access to quick and easy online feedback forms.
The groups have also launched a petition in support of improving communication between police and residents and are asking local cities, officials and residents to sign on.
Led by Advocacy and Awareness Group Johnson County, the Community Summit Group’s “5-Point Plan for Improving Police Feedback in Johnson County” outlines ways the organization hopes to see cities improve mechanisms for residents to contact their local police departments, particularly residents of color.
The group says it had identified barriers to that communication, particularly when it comes to local police departments’ lack of easily accessible ways for citizens to offer feedback online.
The group says it has found many departments either lack online feedback forms entirely or have forms that are hard to find, take a long time to fill out or are only in English.
“Ultimately, we just wanted to make sure that each municipality had an online feedback form at all,” said Linnaia McKenzie, founder of AAGJC. “Going through this work over the last year, we realized quickly that not everyone has access to an online form. That’s going to be the first thing that discourages a citizen from wanting to provide a compliment or a complaint because it’s already an additional hurdle.”
Here’s a link to the group’s petition.
Over the course of several months since its first meeting in December 2020, the Community Summit Group identified a number of priorities to address and improve the climate of racial equity and justice in Johnson County.
Through that process, police relations rose to the top of the priority list, McKenzie said, noting that the group spent more than a year investigating websites of police departments in Johnson County and found what they considered to be a general lack of accessibility for the public to provide feedback through an online form.
Here are the group’s five points of priority:
Priority 1: Use of an online compliment and complaint form.
Priority 2: Explanation of complaint process including expectations about when a citizen should expect to receive non-automated correspondence from the city’s police department.
Priority 3: Clear access to the feedback process from the police department page, with less than three clicks to arrive on the feedback form.
Priority 4: Forms with clear accommodation and translation options.
Priority 5: Forms that take 5 minutes or less to complete.
The Post reached out to the Overland Park Police Department — the biggest in Johnson County — for a response to the petition and five-point plan. Officer John Lacy forwarded a response from Chief Frank Donchez in response to an email from the Community Summit Group about the five-point plan.
“Our department receives compliments and complaints online via the Police Compliments + Complaints page on our website,” Donchez wrote to the Community Summit Group. “Anyone can submit complaints or compliments via email and users are provided options to submit complaints or compliments over the phone or in person as well.
“I would like to elaborate on our process as it relates to your recommendations. The police department does not use a form for accepting a compliment or complaint. Our process allows the person making the compliment or complaint to provide as much, or as little, information as they choose. Because there is no form, when a complainant provides feedback, they can take as long as they wish to make the complaint.”
McKenzie said they hope this step starts an overall conversation among city and community leaders to spark an increase in police transparency across Johnson County.
“A lot of the organizations are supporting this cause for that reason, to see this be the beginning, kind of like a new dawn of a new day for transparency in our county,” she said.
She also noted that the group wants to encourage more residents, including people of color, to provide feedback to police departments “so that the data that the police departments are gathering can be more clear and represent more people.”
“Right now, I can already make the assumption that I’m going to have to go through hurdles to provide the feedback, to say something at all,” McKenzie said. “I want to feel empowered to speak on any interactions I share, whether they’re good or bad, quickly, because it does matter to me to have a say in how I’m treated by the police, especially as a person of color.”
Eventually, McKenzie said the organizations would like to see one unified form available across all police departments in Johnson County to provide feedback about officer interaction to local police departments.
For now, getting cities to sign onto the petition will be the start.
“I think the next goal is that there would be quick action on this,” McKenzie said. “We would hate to see this be one of the policies that gets drug out for years and years because of funding or because of the lift or because of what it takes to implement the plan. We were specific about creating five points that we could see happening within the year.”
Editor’s note: This story was updated Thursday afternoon to include a response from the Overland Park Police Department to the Community Summit Group.