Residents question police board appointment process

·3 min read

May 18—On behalf of an area justice coalition, a resident on Monday relayed concerns about how Riley County police board appointments are made.

Lorenza Lockett, a social work professor at K-State who represented the Manhattan-Riley County Coalition for Equal Justice, said Monday during the Law Enforcement Agency's monthly meeting that some people who had previously applied to the law board expressed desires for a more clearly outlined and consistent process. Lockett said the applicants, who are from minority backgrounds, additionally wanted feedback on why they may not have been selected.

The coalition is a part of the Manhattan Alliance for Peace and Justice.

"We've had some experiences where people from the community are saying that they're highly displeased with the process," Lockett said. "When they apply to the law board, they have no idea why they're not accepted. They're not really clear on what the criteria is and what they can do to put themselves in better positions."

By state statute, the board includes seven members: one Riley County commissioner, one county resident selected by county commissioners, one Manhattan city commissioner, two Manhattan residents selected by city commissioners, the Riley County attorney, and an additional alternating city or county commissioner.

The board oversees the Riley County Police Department with some of its largest duties being setting the department's annual budget, which is about $22.1 million in 2021, approving equipment purchases and other expenditures, affirming or revoking employee suspensions or dismissals, and adopting department rules and regulations.

The three citizen positions are appointed by the city and county commissions every two years. The county and city governments each have separate general board applications on their websites where applicants can describe their interest in serving.

Linda Morse, law board chairwoman and city commissioner, said she suggested applicants provide as much information about their background and experience when applying but acknowledged that doesn't necessarily address concerns about providing application feedback.

Board member and county commission chairman John Ford said the county recently selected a handful of specific questions to include on its law board application though commissioners are still working on clarifying their overall selection process, which may include a public interview.

"I do tend to agree that this particular board ... is unique," Ford said, "but the process in which we put people on this board that make decisions on the ($22 million) budget needs a little more openness and does need a little more transparency. Maybe along the way we need to clarify some information, be a little bit more visible ... I understand the process between both entities probably won't align specifically, but there does need to be a little bit more depth."

Morse said the city has not yet gone through its own process of developing questions or criteria specifically for the law board.

"We're following the statute, what the slots are for how many elected officials and how many citizens, and so we feel like we're functioning the way we should be," Morse said.

Lockett said the coalition hopes that officials heed its request to make the process even more publicized and accessible to citizens, especially those from minority backgrounds who want to serve.

"It's hard to find people who want to do what you guys are doing," he said. "We want to maximize the process. ... if you want to make this clear, you have to make it clear at the level of the people who are engaged, it makes a difference."

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