Police presence in Iowa City schools draws questions

Proposal: Only 'non-offensive (i.e. not in uniform)' clothing allowed

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IOWA CITY — Only weeks after it began, a “Lunch with the PD” program that Iowa City police hoped would build bonds with children is on hold amid pushback from local education officials questioning the department’s presence in elementary schools.

And until the Iowa City school board takes up the matter later this month, Iowa City police plan to tread lightly on school grounds — continue responding to calls for service, of course, but not initiating their own school walk-throughs or extra parking lot patrols.

“We’re going to pull back until they make it clear to us how they want us to be involved,” Interim Iowa City Police Chief Bill Campbell said.

The decision to pull back was the culmination of a series of events that began shortly after the outreach began.

Department officials suspended the program after seeing an email raising concerns about it and asking that police uniforms not be allowed.

Then school board member Phil Hemingway, a supporter of the outreach program, learned it had been put on hold and called for a discussion among his board peers.

Next, Iowa City Manager Goeff Fruin learned of the upcoming board discussion and decided to end any self-initiated police activity at schools until the board decides what it wants.

Both Fruin and Campbell described the relationship between the two agencies as good.

“All of the past partnerships and service collaborations between the police department and schools have been very positive,” Fruin said.

The school board was set to discuss an agenda item labeled “Community Liaisons” earlier, but that was postponed to a Nov. 22 meeting.

On Oct. 3, the police department announced “Lunch with the PD.” The new initiative had Community Outreach Assistant Henri Harper making weekly visits to Iowa City elementary schools to build relationships between the department and children,

Harper, former executive director of the FasTrac diversity and cultural awareness program in Iowa City, is a police department employee but does not carry a firearm or have arrest powers. He wears a uniform, but different from the standard police officer uniform.

Ten days after the initiative was announced, Kingsley Botchway — director of Equity & Engagement with the district and also an elected Iowa City Council member — sent an email to Harper’s personal account, records reviewed by The Gazette show.

The email, entitled “Interagency Agreement,” simply reads, “Please review attached.” The five-page document attached lays out the district’s expectations for the community outreach assistant, and for that liaison to provide certain services to students and staff.

The document from Botchway also states that “clothing worn by the actors from the Partner Agency shall be non-offensive (i.e. not in uniform).”

The same day Botchway sent that, Harper forwarded the document to Sgt. Scott Gaarde.

“I was told today, by Kingsley, that I had to stop having lunch with students until I signed this agreement,” Harper wrote. “I have no intention of signing it. Until they make this policy for everyone just to have lunch, I will just work with youth that I am currently working with.”

Gaarde also expressed concerns about Botchway’s document in an Oct. 14 mail to Campbell.

“There certainly appears to be a few contradictions/conflicts being presented by Kingsley, as well as some other concerns including the ‘offensive’ clothing, that I am not sure how we can practically work around at this time,” Gaarde wrote, advised that Harper’s lunch program be suspended.

In an interview, Botchway said the document was a “draft” meant to be a conversation starter over questions he heard.

“There seemed to be some inconsistencies as far as what (Harper) was saying he was trying to do in the schools and what I was hearing in the schools,” Botchway said. “In order to help him clear up this relationship and say, ‘Let’s try to work something out,’ I thought the best-case scenario was an interagency agreement. I just sent it to him to look at.”

Botchway said he included the language about clothing in response to comments he heard at community meetings about police uniforms making some uncomfortable.

“It’s unfortunate,” Botchway said of the situation. “Obviously, police presence in our schools in a positive way is important ... I feel bad (the email) has led to a decree that folks aren’t stopping by to have those positive relationships.”

Fruin said Botchway’s letter was not the first he had heard from the district about a police presence in the schools.

On Oct. 12 — the day before Botchway’s letter was sent — Superintendent Steve Murley sent an email to Fruin, Coralville City Administrator Kelly Hayworth and North Liberty City Administrator Ryan Heiar. It concerned questions school board Vice President LaTasha DeLoach had about police presence in the schools. Some of the questions were directly related to Harper and his program.

“Are parents being properly introduced to the program? Families are afraid of police,” DeLoach asked, according to the email.

Murley said in the email he was asking the three for assistance in answering DeLoach.

A spokeswoman for the district said Murley was “unreachable” until Tuesday and not available for an interview.

School official has questions over new police outreach program

LaTasha DeLoach: Impact would be greater at community center, not over quick lunch

By Lee Hermiston. The Gazette

IOWA CITY — Iowa City school board Vice President LaTasha DeLoach said she has questions about the “Lunch with the PD” police outreach program launched last month in schools.

“As a parent, I would want to know if my kids were having lunch with anybody,” said DeLoach, who is Johnson County’s disproportionate minority contact coordinator. “As a parent, I would want to know that is somebody that works with the police department that is meeting with my kids, during their free time. What if I had a bad experience with police?”

Iowa City police have suspended the program, which involves Community Outreach Assistant Henri Harper having lunch with Iowa City schoolchildren, at least until the school board discusses the matter.

DeLoach said wants to know what Harper’s curriculum is, and why the program couldn’t take place elsewhere.

“Why did they have to go to the schools versus you go to a community center?” DeLoach said. “The impact that could be made on a community level is much higher than these kids trying to eat lunch real fast.”

Board President Chris Lynch said he didn’t know enough about Harper’s program to comment on it.

Board member Phil Hemingway, a supporter of the outreach program. had called for a board discission and said he was “furious” to learn of continued fallout over it.

Harper “can reach kids that are elementary level, junior high, high school level,” Hemingway said. “He doesn’t have any troubles communicating with students of all ages. That’s a gift. That’s a gift that should be awarded, appreciated, nurtured; not one that should be shut out, isolated.”

Hemingway noted that on Friday, Harper will be inducted into the Iowa African-American Hall of Fame for his efforts to help area youths.

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