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Cedar Rapids City Council appoints first 9 members to citizens’ police review board
Panel to begin meeting in July to chart path toward improved community-police relations
CEDAR RAPIDS — Nine Cedar Rapids citizens soon will begin to work to pave a path for promoting equity in policing and building bridges between law enforcement officials and the community they serve.
After city officials winnowed down a pool of 71 applicants, the Cedar Rapids City Council on Tuesday appointed nine people — predominantly people of color — to serve as the first members of its newly created citizens’ police review board, charged with providing oversight of local law enforcement.
The board appointments come almost a year to the day after the local nonprofit Advocates for Social Justice pressed the council to commit to seven demands for police reform, after the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police. Chief among those demands was the creation of the review panel — a step toward addressing the disparities that people of color disproportionately face in policing.
“The Citizen Review Board members have an important responsibility and will be making a significant investment in improving the relationship and trust between our police department and our community,” Mayor Brad Hart said in a statement.
The first nine review board members will serve staggered terms:
• Dedric Doolin, Al O’Bannon and Starlet Smith — through June 30, 2022
• Kelsey Culver, Arthur Kim and Monica Vallejo — through June 30, 2023
• Aaron Eddy, Lovar Kidd and India Snow-Watt — through June 30, 2024
Seven of the five men and four women identify as people of color, said city Program Manager April Wing, staff liaison for the board. The ordinance requires at least five people of color serve on the panel.
With these appointees, the city also meets all requirements under the board’s ordinance that the members include one lawyer licensed in Iowa, three from organizations with a racial justice mission and two involved with groups that focus on social issues such as homelessness and food insecurity.
The appointments are unpaid positions.
Board meetings will begin in July. Under the ordinance guiding the panel’s structure, members will focus on public engagement, advising the city on police department policies and practices, reviewing citizen complaints and serving on the committee that hires the police chief.
The council was “pleased by the large number of diverse, qualified applicants who were willing to serve” on the panel, Hart said, as the size of the applicant pool is indicative of the work that went into structuring a meaningful board that aligns with National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement best practices.
He urged those not appointed to consider serving on other boards and commissions throughout city government.
Community Development Director Jennifer Pratt told The Gazette this large applicant pool shows the city’s communication with citizens surrounding the board worked.
“We absolutely understood the urgency of the moment that we had to show progress, but yet you're also having these community conversations and starting to lay this foundation,” Pratt said.
To fill future slots on the panel, Pratt said the key will be to continue to build relationships with the different groups that are represented and leveraging citizens’ connections to make inroads with others looking to become more active in the community.
“It's just building that relationship so we continue to cultivate that,” Pratt said.
Board members are required to do 16 hours of ride-alongs with police. Wing said members likely will have their first one by July or August and another one after that.
Members also will undergo 30 hours of training within their first six months on the board and an additional 10 hours within the first year. The training is a variation of the Citizen’s Police Academy and is set by the police chief. Wing said their training will home in more on department policies and procedures, which the members will have an opportunity to review in their work.
Engaging the community
Board members eventually will craft a community outreach program to solicit public input on police department policies and procedures, engaging a broad segment of the community in terms of geography, cultures, ethnicity and socioeconomic status.
The board must hold at least one public forum each year and report on its outreach efforts to council annually.
“These forums are for hearing views on policies, practices and procedures of the police department and making recommendations to the City Council,” Hart said. “We look forward to continued community engagement” through the review board, including from applicants not selected to be members.
Crafting a long-term plan
The board will pursue a long-term planning process to identify major problems or trends, evaluate the effectiveness of existing police department practices and recommend policy changes by majority vote.
Wing said that is expected to take place toward the second half of the first year, after members have “gotten their training and have a little bit more of an understanding about the police department and really what their role is as a board.”
Their review could include particular data they wish to examine further or a certain study they would like to conduct, Wing said.
“It's all kind of out in the open right now until they are able to define that more for themselves,” Wing said.
The community outreach will help shape the board’s planning and oversight, she added.
"That board that is designated to speak for the community, and you can't do that until you also get their input,” Wing said.
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