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Cedar Rapids commits to a citizens' review board of police

Details of the board's membership and powers undecided

City council member Dale Todd speaks as members of the city council and police department meet with protest organizers a
City council member Dale Todd speaks as members of the city council and police department meet with protest organizers at the Jean Oxley Public Service Center in Cedar Rapids Tuesday, June 9, 2020. Organizers presented a list of demands to ensure more transparency in local policing and government and racial equity within the city. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — Citizens soon will have the chance to review police conduct, Cedar Rapids officials announced Friday, though details of the panel’s makeup and powers are yet unknown.

That there would be any type of community oversight comes after protest leaders met twice this week with city officials, and as the second large protest in a week will be held Saturday,

Cedar Rapids Mayor Brad Hart, police Chief Wayne Jerman, City Manager Jeff Pomeranz and City Council members Dale Todd and Ashley Vanorny discussed during a 90-minute virtual meeting Friday morning with protest leaders some of the issues protesters have flagged. The groups met in person earlier this week.

At a news conference Friday, Jerman listed ways he said the Cedar Rapids Police Department was already ahead on meeting some of the protesters’ demands — including its ban on choke holds, knees to the neck and the use of vascular restraint.

Jerman said he and Hart are dedicated to creating a citizens’ review board but said they first need to do research.

“A citizen review board is multifaceted,” Jerman said. “There’s lots of responsibilities that the board has and there are lots of issues that need to be addressed involving confidentiality requirements, state statutes, civil service statutes. So those need to be worked through. And we’re committed to getting it done.”

There are several citizens review board models used throughout the country, according to the U.S. Department of Justice, and they range in duties and power.

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Citizen review boards might investigate allegations of police misconduct and recommend findings to the chief or sheriff. In other models, police officers might investigate allegations and develop findings for citizens to review. The citizens would recommend that the chief or sheriff approve or reject them.

In some cities, complainants may appeal findings established by the police or sheriff’s department to citizens, who review them and then recommend their own findings. And in other cities, an auditor investigates the process by which the police or sheriff’s department accepts and investigates complaints and reports on the thoroughness and fairness of the process to the public.

It is important, Jerman said, that the type of board Cedar Rapids adopts be the right fit.

“We are going to investigate the best practices from around the country and come up with the best way to move this forward,” Hart said. “There’s a variety of options, and that’s the work that has to be done … (and) we’re committed to doing that, and to doing it quickly.

“We’re starting from a really good, strong spot,” the mayor added. “We’re starting with an accredited police department that has a lot of policies already in place that many communities across the country don’t have.”

Iowa City has a Community Police Review Board that issues its advisory findings to the City Council. Critics say the board is powerless.

Talks Friday morning between Cedar Rapids officials and protest leaders took on a “marked difference in tone,” said Stacey Walker, a Linn County supervisor who said he is one of those representing the protesters.

“Officials seemed more open, willing to play ball, which I appreciated,” Walker said. “Hopefully, this change in approach will last and we can get through these negotiations.”

Hart, too, agreed that the conversation went well — saying they worked through only two of several demands because they were having “great discussion.”

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“I hope the narrative will not be that there was pushback,” Hart said. “Let’s be fair to everyone. Let’s treat everyone equally. That’s the issue behind all of this.”

Hart said he would be interested in the Iowa Legislature making marijuana possession, a Class 1 misdemeanor, a lesser misdemeanor so people in possession of marijuana could be ticketed instead of arrested.

That issue was not included in a police reform measure Gov. Kim Reynolds signed into law Friday as lawmakers appear to be preparing to adjourn for the year.

The law, though, does speak to two demands of Cedar Rapids protesters — limiting chokeholds and requiring de-escalation training.

Leslie Neely, 31, a Cedar Rapids protest organizer, said the law doesn’t go far enough because it still allows chokeholds if a person cannot be captured any other way and if the person has threatened or used deadly force.

“I think that leaves a large hole in the legislation,” Neely said. “It’s easy for a police officer to say someone couldn’t have been captured any other way.”

Walker said the bill is a step in the right direction, but stops short of comprehensive police reform, which would include demilitarizing the police force, adding civilian oversight and redirecting funding for police to support services such as safe and stable housing, food insecurity and job training.

The advocacy group first met with city officials Tuesday, asking them to say yes to their demands and have a plan for how to implement them by Juneteenth — which commemorates the day the last slaves were freed on June 19, 1865, in the United States.

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On Tuesday, they discussed forming an independent citizen’s review board and making significant investments in diversity, equality and inclusion.

The advocacy group and city officials are planning top meet again next week to discuss the final three demands: imposing strict body camera provisions; making negotiations between law enforcement and municipal representatives public; and abolishing qualified immunity for officers.

Another Cedar Rapids protest will be at 5 p.m. Saturday at Bever Park.

Comments: (319) 398-8411; grace.king@thegazette.com

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