Iowa City police launch two new outreach programs

'Lunch with the PD' is for kids; 'Sit and Chat' is for adults

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IOWA CITY — The Iowa City Police Department is trying to build relationships in the community with two new outreach efforts.

This week, the police department launched “Lunch with the PD” and “Sit and Chat.” Both programs aim to open up the lines of communication between the police department and community, though the groups being targeted are different.

Lunch with the PD gives fifth- and sixth-grade students at Iowa City schools a weekly opportunity to have lunch with police officers. Sit and Chat invites citizens to come down to the police substation at Pepperwood Plaza between 5:30 and 6:30 p.m. to learn more about the police department and available resources.

Both programs are spearheaded by the department’s community outreach assistant, Henri Harper. Harper, the former executive of the FasTrac diversity and cultural awareness program in Iowa City, was hired as the community outreach assistant on a part-time basis in the summer of 2015. His position with the department recently became full time, he said.

“I’m just trying to change the conversation about our community as a whole and, in doing so, create more relationships,” Harper said, adding the discussions are to address issues of mistrust, lack of communication and misconceptions about what the police department does and does not do. His goal is to reach young students to give them a “fresh start” for when they enter junior high.

With the Sit and Chat, Harper said he wants to talk with parents and other adults about what’s going on in the neighborhoods. He also wants to make the substation, located at 1067 Highway 6, a place where people feel comfortable.

“They can see this is not threatening,” he said. “It’s a welcoming place. It’s to give you access to your local police department.”

Both events are to feature food, Harper said.

“We can talk to one another and bridge some gaps in communication,” he said.

Iowa City Police Sgt. Scott Gaarde said Harper is not a sworn officer and does not have any enforcement capabilities. But, his position is important in fostering relationships between police and the community. Harper is to work closely with neighborhood outreach and community resource officers and the juvenile investigator.

“The goal is essentially to maintain a positive, visible presence in the community, establish and maintain relationships in the community and hopefully open up broader communication channels,” Gaarde said.

For more information on the outreach programs, contact Harper at (319) 356-5275.

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