photo by: Nick Gerik
As the Lawrence police department nears a potentially pivotal point, the city plans to enlist the help of a professional search firm to find the department’s next police chief.
The decision to hire an outside firm comes following the resignation of the last police chief after he served only about two years and eighth months in the position and amid an ongoing study of potential changes to the role of police in the community. The city did not hire an outside firm to assist with the last police chief hire, and Assistant City Manager Brandon McGuire said the decision to do so this time was based on the need for independent and objective guidance in the hiring decision during such a significant time.
“I would say it’s an acknowledgment that this is a really important hire for our community and our organization,” McGuire said. “And (an acknowledgment) that there’s still some healing going on, and to help us focus on that process.”
In addition, McGuire said he thought being able to leverage a search firm’s client list of potential applicants would be beneficial to the hiring process. McGuire added that Interim Police Chief Capt. Anthony Brixius did not plan to apply for the position, and the search for a new chief would be a national one, likely concentrated in the Midwest.
Last May, the city announced that Lawrence Police Chief Gregory Burns Jr., the city’s first Black police chief, would step down from his position just a few months after most members of the police union voted that they did not have confidence in his ability to lead the department, as the Journal-World previously reported. Specific reasons for the decision or the union’s vote were never publicly disclosed, and a separation agreement between Burns and the city included a “mutual non-disparagement” agreement and a $106,805 payment to Burns.
Not long after, the Lawrence City Commission called for a review of the police department in the wake of national and local calls for police reform and protests against police killings of Black people and other people of color. The commission ultimately agreed in October to pay Citygate Associates $117,833 for a comprehensive study of the police department, the creation of a new master plan and the development of a candidate profile for the city’s next police chief. One of Citygate’s considerations is whether some duties should be shifted away from police and instead be handled by other community agencies or organizations.
The city issued a request for proposals for the search firm this week. The request asks the response from potential search firms to include discussion of how the firm’s executive recruitment and selection methodology has evolved in response to recent and emerging external factors, such as the ongoing pandemic and community-police relations. The request also asks for firms to include discussion of the their experience and commitment to attracting diverse candidates.
McGuire said that in addition to the search firm’s approach to community engagement, the firm’s responsiveness to local and national discussions about police reform would be important.
“How have they been responsive to really the changing environment within the public safety world, especially the police industry?” McGuire said. “And have their recruitment messages been reflective of the changes in the industry?”
Regarding community engagement, the request for proposals states that the city manager anticipates appointing a search committee of community members and internal staff to work with the consultant and the city manager throughout the recruitment and selection process. The request asks that interested firms include a detailed outline of public engagement components, including efforts such as surveys and town halls, and how that feedback is used in the recruitment process.
Brixius, who joined the Lawrence police department in 2003, has been serving as interim chief for the second time in his career. McGuire said the city was grateful for Brixius’ steady support of department employees during the extended interim period, which included an increased level of employee engagement, a leadership restructuring and the department’s relocation to its new headquarters.
Brixius will be a member of the selection committee, and said in email to the Journal-World that he looked forward to being an integral part of the search team. He said his decision not to apply for the position was for personal reasons.
“Serving our city and our outstanding employees as the Interim Chief has been a tremendous honor,” Brixius said. “At this time, being a candidate for the Chief of Police is not the best fit for me or my family. I look forward to helping the new Chief once selected and continuing to serve our community and our employees.”
McGuire said the findings and recommendations from Citygate’s study would be key for anyone looking to apply for the police chief position. He said the city wanted to have a good feel for those findings by the time the recruitment process started and that Citygate’s final report should be submitted around the end of June.
Search firms have until March 29 to respond to the city’s request for proposals. McGuire said that once a search firm was identified, that information would be communicated to the City Commission. He said the city hoped to begin recruitment for the police chief position around mid-May and would ideally have a new police chief hired by the end of August. The police chief reports to the city manager, and the final hiring decision is made by the city manager and does not require City Commission approval.