Topeka Mayor and City Council Approve Eight Police Reform Recommendations
Recommendations made by a Topeka City Council special committee aren’t enough to effectively deliver police reform here, critics told the mayor and council Tuesday night.
“We don’t need these weak recommendations,” said Glenda Overstreet.
Still, the mayor and city council voted 8-1 to adopt those eight recommendations, describing the move as a positive “first step.”
“It’s not an end result,” said Mayor Mike Padilla, who served on the committee. “The conversation won’t stop now.”
Padilla encouraged critics of the proposal to “settle down” and “add to the work effort” involved in any future police reform initiative the city may undertake.
The committee was formed during the tense times following the murder of George Floyd
Padilla and councilors Sylvia Ortiz and Karen Hiller served on the police and community committee, which made the recommendations.
This committee was formed in October 2020 in the tense atmosphere that reigned after a Minneapolis police officer murdered George Floyd five months earlier.
The committee last met last month. He made eight recommendations, which the mayor and council voted to approve Tuesday night.
Councilman Mike Lesser was absent that evening.
Councilwoman Christina Valdivia-Alcala cast the lone dissenting vote, saying the committee’s recommendations fell far short of what was needed.
‘We should have had more details’ on Topeka police reform
Ahead of Tuesday’s vote, the mayor and council heard Debbie Harrod express support for the police, then heard racial justice advocates Overstreet, Daniel Martin, Angela Lee, Danielle Twemlow and Ari Davis oppose the approval of the proposed recommendations.
Twemlow called Tuesday’s vote “very disappointing”.
She said the recommendations approved that evening were ‘very vague’ and the assertion that the city was at a ‘starting point’ in terms of achieving police reform was the same as advocates of racial justice here had said in 2020.
After all this time, “we should have had more,” she said.
Councilor Spencer Duncan suggested that instead of focusing on the things the recommendations don’t accomplish, council should highlight the positive things they do.
Here’s what the recommendations entail:
Recognition of the role of school resource officers
The measure approved Tuesday concludes that Topeka Police Academy resource officers play an important role in the community while emphasizing that they do not enforce school discipline.
“SROs are mentors and should continue to serve in that capacity,” the recommendation states, adding that SRO training should be updated to reflect current student needs.
“No knock warrants” will remain prohibited
The measure approved Tuesday recommends that no changes be made to the city’s current practice of banning “no-knock warrants.”
The city has not used the practice since July 2020, when its ban was codified.
Use of force policies should be reviewed regularly
The measure adopted on Tuesday recommends that policies relating to the use of force be “constantly reviewed”, with input from civilians.
It describes the use of force as being “of extreme concern to the public” and calls for greater clarity on training and best practices related to the subject.
Still in terms of the use of force, the measure recommends increasing the continuous training and certification of crisis intervention teams, with the use of mental health co-responders.
Agent training content would include history and de-escalation
The OK’d Tuesday measure recommends that recruit training include education about the historical role of policing in the United States, with training on fair and impartial policing and bias-based policing seen as crucial.
He also finds training that emphasizes de-escalation, cross-cultural understanding and speaking up “if a fellow officer needs to be redirected” to be essential.
Civilian contribution to the suggested training
The measure approved on Tuesday includes a recommendation that civil participation should be added to the process of developing PDT training.
The civilian contribution would complement departmental processes, not replace them, he said.
The Committee suggests strengthening civilian oversight of the police, to some extent
The Topeka Public Service Commission is technically the framework that allows civilian oversight of the Topeka Police.
The committee said the framework for this commission needs to be strengthened, which in turn would allow for greater civilian-led oversight and civic engagement.
Critics suggested Tuesday that the city would be better served by forming a civilian review board than by putting more pressure on the public service commission.
Employment decisions would be more collaborative in the future
The measure approved Tuesday recommends that the hiring be a joint and collaborative effort, with the city looking forward to identifying partners who can help it recruit officers.
The recommendation calls for the staff review form to be updated
The OK’d Tuesday recommendations include an encouragement to the Topeka Police Department on its personnel review form to check whether the employee being assessed demonstrated ease and awareness in dealing with people from diverse multicultural backgrounds.
He also recommends that the department check whether the employee has exercised his “duty to intervene” in situations where it is appropriate.
Topeka Council paves way for new Holidome apartment complex
The mayor and council Tuesday night also voted 9-0 to issue $24.5 million in taxable industrial tax bonds to allow Denver-based Flywheel Capital, LLC to demolish the former Holiday Inn Holidome at 605 SW Fairlawn. and create an apartment complex there.
The complex is expected to include about 220 multi-family housing units, according to Tuesday’s meeting agenda.
The bond issue would pose no financial risk to the city. Investors would buy the bonds, which would be repaid using the revenue generated by the project. If the project were to default, it would become a problem between the developers and the investors.
The mayor and council also voted 9-0 to rezone the property to allow the construction of two apartment buildings.
Tim Hrenchir can be reached at [email protected] or 785-213-5934.