116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — The four candidates vying to be Cedar Rapids’ next mayor in the Nov. 2 race all have shared differing outlooks on public safety issues.
The mayor will be one of nine votes signing off on a municipal budget each year. In fiscal 2022 — the budget year that ends June 30, 2022 — the city allocated $43.4 million and $27.8 million for its police and fire departments, respectively. That is about half of the city’s general fund budget.
Equity in policing
In The Gazette’s recent candidate forum, TrueNorth executive Amara Andrews said the police department “is doing a good job,” but “it could do much better.”
A recently formed citizens’ police review board, which Andrews helped create as vice president for the Advocates for Social Justice, is “a step in the right direction, but it is not enough,” she said. Specifically, she called for continued implicit bias and de-escalation training to reduce racial and ethnic disparities in officers’ use of force.
Timed with the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, Andrews had released a plan to support emergency responders and law enforcement. “We shouldn’t cut a single red cent of this budget,” Andrews said.
Instead, she advocated for maintaining funding for the police and fire departments, investing more in human and social services such as Public Works, Housing and Community Development and boosting funding streams to not-for-profits to supplement those services as the city’s tax base expands.
Mayor Brad Hart said he was proud of the police department, which he noted is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies. He also voiced his support for the citizens’ review panel.
“I'm excited about the people who are willing to serve on that, and they'll work hard — I know they will — and the police department and police chief is going to be as cooperative as he possibly can be, because he wants to build further trust of the police department within our community so that works for all of us,” Hart said. “Crime goes down for everybody if people will cooperate with our police department.”
Women Lead Change Chief Executive Officer Tiffany O’Donnell said, “I have such incredible respect for our police department. There will be no defunding of anything were I to be mayor.”
Mayors cannot unilaterally control the city budget. Plus, a new GOP-backed state law enacted this year bars local governments from receiving state funds if their elected officials reduce the budget of their law enforcement agency, with some exceptions.
O’Donnell said she would advocate to continue the work of the review board.
“I think we also need to continue our work with organizations like Foundation 2 and providing mental health support because we know that that's a component now of policing more and more unfortunately,” O’Donnell said. “We also need to continue that work we do with the (Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation),” referring to its group violence intervention efforts, “and then try to be proactive in identifying those who may have a propensity to offend and be proactive about keeping that from happening.”
Quaker Oats employee Myra Colby Bradwell, formerly known as Gregory Hughes, said he saw a need for more training in certain regards, but “I think our police need our support.”
“One thing you have to learn about being a police officer is that people need to respect you as you need to respect them,” Bradwell said.
In a May forum, Hart and O’Donnell waffled on whether they believed systemic racism exists in law enforcement, while Andrews said she believed it did. Bradwell was not yet in the race.
Candidates were split on their support for automated traffic enforcement cameras, which the city reported brought in over $8 million in fiscal 2021, the budget year that ended June 30.
State lawmakers have attempted over the years to ban Iowa communities from using the devices. Some lawmakers view the cameras as traffic safety tools that reduce public safety costs, while others slam them as cash-generating constitutional violations.
Andrews and Hart both supported the cameras.
“The main reason I support the speed cams is that they bring in a lot of revenue to the city that we need, especially right now after the derecho and COVID,” Andrews said.
While the devices do provide “significant revenue” that funds many police officer positions, Hart said he backed the devices for safety reasons. City data shows they have reduced crashes with injuries, making it safer for motorists and for officers who do not have to patrol crash-prone parts of Interstate 380.
“Frankly, it's 12 miles or more over the speed limit (before a ticket is issued). That's too fast,” Hart said. “I have no sympathy for people who are driving that fast … If you're going to drive recklessly fast and endanger my citizens, I don't want you here anyway.”
O’Donnell and Bradwell opposed the devices.
Having just recently sent in her second $75 check to pay a ticket from the cameras, O’Donnell was skeptical that safety was the primary aim.
“We've got this money that we now count on to pay for officers that should be in our operating budget anyway, ”O’Donnell said. “Something like this should be additional.”
Bradwell said, “It's about revenue. It's not about protecting anybody.”
All candidates voiced support for decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana. The City Council has agreed to the advocates group’s demand to lobby lawmakers to decriminalize low-level marijuana offenses.
“We look at the disparate treatment of people and we know that marijuana is used equal amounts between white and Black people, for example, but Black people are more likely to be arrested and more likely to be charged with marijuana possession,” Andrews said in reference to data from the American Civil Liberties Union.
It can be a cost burden for some to pay the legal expenses that come with a marijuana possession charge, Hart said.
“Kids getting into the criminal justice system for having a little bit of pot is troubling,” Hart said. “And for some of those kids, it still creates an issue for them to get that first job or even that second or third job.”
While O’Donnell was in favor of decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana — or at least considering alternative penalties for first offenses — she said she did not support full legalization.
“I'm not saying I'll never get there, but I'm not there yet,” O’Donnell said. “I have addiction in my family. I've seen what this can do, and I've heard really smart people on both sides of this issue.”
Bradwell said that in “some of the countries I've been to talk to about marijuana, they can't believe the gazillions of dollars that we spend putting people away for a little marijuana.”
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