116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — When Joshua Dabusu came to the United States from the Congo in 2016, he was afraid of the police. Law enforcement was one of the many things that was different here than in his home country.
Looking back, he said he wished someone had been available to educate him about what police in America do and how to interact with them.
Now, as the Iowa City Police Department’s first immigrant and refugee community outreach assistant, Dabusu hopes to be that person for other immigrants.
Dabusu, who speaks French and Lingala as well as English, joined the department in March in the part-time position. He spends his time attending community events, going out with officers on calls that may involve cultural or language barriers, and reaching out to leaders of immigrant and refugee organizations to make connections with different communities in Iowa City.
“I never experienced something like that — somebody reaching out to me, explaining how policing works, or how I got this ticket, or stuff like that,” Dabusu said.
Dabusu was studying law before he came to the U.S., but when he got here, he knew he would need to learn English before studying anything else.
He began studying the language through Kirkwood Community College. As his English skills improved, he decided to pursue a degree in criminal justice because he wanted to better understand how law enforcement works in the United States.
While in school, Dabusu worked as an immigrant and refugee coordinator at Path of Hope, an Iowa City organization that helps immigrants and refugees with the resettlement process, and as an intern with the Iowa City Police Department.
Dabusu said he reached out to the police department because he wanted to gain more hands-on experience with policing and law enforcement. He didn’t know what an internship was, but was invited to apply after he asked if they had a program in which he could spend time at the department observing what officers do.
“In school, you’re learning more about knowledge and stuff, but you don’t really get to experience what’s happening behind what you see on papers and books. I had the opportunity to see the officers, talk to them, share and experience their stories that they have, which was great,” Dabusu said.
When the immigrant and refugee outreach position opened shortly after Dabusu graduated from Kirkwood in December, he knew it would be a perfect fit.
“I thought, I can be the person who can be able to help those folks, not just understand how police work but also how to be a better person in America, how to succeed in this country,” Dabusu said.
He works under Sgt. Andrew McKnight, who oversees community outreach in the department. McKnight said the immigrant and refugee position was created as part of a restructuring of the police department that created more community outreach options.
“The immigrant and refugee community is growing in Iowa City at a faster rate than the domestic community, which a lot of people don’t realize. So, as a police department, it’s important that we have the foresight to be proactive and make sure that we have the right people in place to be able to continue our outreach efforts in those areas,” McKnight said.
McKnight said the goal of the position is to find out what immigrant and refugee populations want to know about the police department and how best to communicate those things to them, and conversely, find out what the police department needs immigrant and refugee populations to know about law enforcement.
Dabusu is making connections and working on preparing presentations for different immigrant and refugee groups about police-related topics, such as what to expect during a traffic stop.
“When we’ve talked about this role, we have really talked about it in terms of building a bridge to the immigrant and refugee community that’s a two-way encounter,” McKnight said. “We do a lot of work within the department on the topic of culture and mental health, and how a person’s cultural background can create barriers to help-seeking, for example, so understanding more about immigrant communities can help us remove those barriers and hopefully, help people engage in help-seeking.”
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