116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — Three Iowa City Council candidates running for two at-large seats in the Nov. 2 election are sharing their views on the city’s plan to restructure the police department and the ongoing discussion of whether it’s appropriate for the county to have an armored vehicle that’s used by police.
The candidates — Mayor Bruce Teague, ACT senior manager Megan Alter and Jason Glass, vice chairman of the city’s Human Rights Commission — responded to written questions sent by The Gazette and spoke with The Gazette’s editorial board about their stances.
The Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle — or MRAP — was acquired by the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office in 2014 and has been deployed seven times by Iowa City police since then. Four of those times were in the city’s south side, which has a higher percentage of residents of color.
Both council members and the Johnson County supervisors have been discussing use of the MRAP and possible alternatives, such as a smaller armored Lenco BearCat.
Sheriff Brad Kunkel told the supervisors in August he would not negotiate his position of needing an armored vehicle, but said he would get rid of the MRAP if the BearCat was purchased instead.
Teague does not think the MRAP is needed but is supportive of the BearCat. If also would be shared between the city and the county, he added.
Teague supports the smaller BearCat because “we need something in the toolbox” to protect officers and residents during high-risk situations.
During a candidate forum hosted by the League of Women Voters in September, Glass used similar language. He said an armored vehicle is a “tool that we need in our toolbox” to respond to dangerous situations, such as when there is an active shooter. Glass also indicated he would favor the BearCat over the MRAP in a post on his campaign website.
Alter, who lives in the South District, does not think the city or county needs a militarized vehicle. She said the BearCat “still feels threatening” to residents.
“I think that there are other options,” Alter said. “I have seen counselors doing some research and have seen some other vehicles that look more like an Amazon vehicle. They're armored, and that's the entire point is for safety.”
Restructuring police department
The city is continuing its efforts to restructure the Iowa City Police Department.
Following Black Lives Matter protests last summer, the Iowa City Council called for a preliminary plan to restructure the department with a community policing model in mind. The plan was presented in December 2020.
The 36 recommendations are divided into three categories: creating a continuum of responses to mental health crisis calls, unbiased policing and moving forward.
Teague said all of the recommendations are “vitally important” but the most important element is for everyone to acknowledge the disproportionate effects of the criminal justice system on people of color.
“The belief must be held by every individual and not just our police officers,” Teague said.
He added how getting input from the public throughout the plan will be important as well.
“I really do feel that the public input is very valuable, very important, and I'm looking forward to really having those further discussions when we can move the needle down the line,” Teague said.
Alter highlighted the quarterly town halls proposed in the plan as a way to “create space for true communication.”
The town halls are “excellent and consistent ways for the public to have a voice and for the police to know firsthand what residents are experiencing and to get ‘real time’ accounts of how the police force's actions have been perceived, how they might do better and gather input,” Alter said.
While Alter said the recommendations are on the right track, she added they have been implemented too slowly and “haven’t gone far enough.”
“I know that government agencies move slowly, but I think that the commitment that the council has said they have there needs to be more action, more quickly,” Alter said.
Glass said Iowa City has a forward-thinking police department, and steps have already been taken to put the city ahead of many communities. He highlighted the work done to add mental health resources and diversion opportunities.
He said the focus on community policing is important, especially for building trust between officers and residents.
“We can't expect the reputation or the relationship with the public and the police to be good if the only time they’re seen is when there's problems,” he said.
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