CEDAR RAPIDS — Community leaders, NAACP representatives and local law enforcement hope to sign an agreement that would begin a mediation process on racial tensions and policing policies in the next few months.
In another meeting Thursday, discussion centered on transparency in community policing and racial profiling policies for law enforcement.
Attendees included Linn County Supervisor Stacey Walker and representatives from the Iowa Justice Alliance, Linn County Attorney’s Office, Linn County Sheriff’s Office, Cedar Rapids and Marion police departments and the NAACP.
The Alliance was formed after the officer-involved shooting of Cedar Rapids resident Jerime Mitchell, who is black, by Cedar Rapids police Officer Lucas Jones, who is white, during a Nov. 1, 2016, traffic stop near Coe College. A grand jury cleared the officer of any wrongdoing in December 2016.
Betty Andrews, president of the Iowa-Nebraska NAACP, said the group hopes to sign an agreement to mediate in the coming month after the new Cedar Rapids City Council members are seated and can take part in discussions.
The agreement to mediate would mean a U.S. Department of Justice official would mediate future meetings, and the group would discuss their desires for community policing policies. The conveners hope discussions lead to a written memorandum of understanding, though any agreement would not be legally binding or contractual.
Attendees made progress Thursday, Andrews said.
“What we’re finding is we set an aggressive agenda, but some of the questions and various nuances have prevented us from moving as quickly as we’d hoped,” she said. “We want to make sure we put something together that addresses the issue we need to address.”
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Andrews said the three law enforcement agencies around the table Thursday were in “varying stages,” as far as having policies on racial profiling. They also discussed making police policies easily accessible to the public.
“Transparency’s critical for police and communities that feel underserved,” said Marion police Capt. Doug Slagle, who sat in for Chief Joe McHale, on Thursday. “They deserve to know how local law enforcement works, what our expectations are, what we can and cannot do.”
McHale said he is happy to have conversations on how police can better serve the community, especially those of color, but he wants input from all sides.
“Everybody wants to come to the police and say, ‘Fix this, do that.’ I am going to be very aggressive in saying, ‘What are you doing? How are you going to be impacting your community?’ ” McHale said. “There’s a dual role responsibility here. They want to tie everything back to that shooting, and I’m way past that. The people really hurting by the violent crime want to know what we’re doing to fix their social issues, their streets, their roads, their schools.”
But Andrews said the Mitchell case was a catalyst for the discussion.
“To some degree, Jerime Mitchell represents years of challenges that have happened not only in Cedar Rapids but across Iowa,” she said. “It proved to be an opportunity in which we could have a conversation that is not an easy conversation but will be a benefit to all. ... Jerime Mitchell’s always in the back of my head. This is an important process, and we want to make sure we have our officials at the table to work this through and show this is a priority for the city.”
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