116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — A majority of the Iowa City Council said Tuesday they do not support abolishing the Iowa City Police Department.
“Human nature is such that we can never be without a police force,” said council member Susan Mims. “I’m totally open to innovation. I’m totally supportive of more training. I’m totally supportive of holding officers accountable … I’m not at all supportive of getting rid of the police department.
Mims’ comments during a work session were echoed by Iowa City Mayor Bruce Teague, Mayor Pro Tem Mazahir Salih and council member Pauline Taylor, all who spoke in favor of restructuring the police department — the topic at hand during Tuesday’s session.
“I do believe what I committed to and what the council committed to, when we looked at the words we wanted to use, we took considerable time talking about ’abolish’ and some other terms, and we went with ’restructuring,’” said Teague.
The abolish versus restructure conversation came in response to council member Laura Bergus’ recent opinion column in The Gazette on having a conversation about abolishing the police department. Bergus brought up the column at the end of a nearly two-hour discussion on City Manager Geoff Fruin’s recommendations to restructure the police department toward a community policing model.
“We made a commitment last June to restructure our police department,” Bergus said Tuesday. “What I see here is a lot of what has already been underway and what is in the works. I really just want to challenge us to consider what did we think we were committing to last summer and are we achieve that with this plan?”
Fruin’s plan calls for diverting crisis calls from officers, creating new public safety roles and enhancing training for officers. Some elements of Fruin’s 36 recommendations are already in place, with city funds being allocated to create a street outreach and engagement specialist employed by Shelter House and a law enforcement liaison employed by CommUnity Crisis Services to respond to mental crisis calls alongside an officer.
Tuesday’s work session was meant to review the recommendations from Fruin’s plan and allow the council an opportunity to provide feedback. Two large undertakings proposed in Fruin’s plans involve working with CommUnity and other jurisdiction’s to expand the Mobile Crisis Service and integrating those services into the 911 dispatch service.
“It’s a fantastic resource and we’re so fortunate it’s already established in Johnson County,” Fruin said, noting an expansion would require extensive resources and intergovernmental work, similar to what went into the creation of the GuideLink Center. “I think the first thing is making sure we understand how CommUnity as the operator of this service sees how it can grow.”
Council was also supportive of researching how the police department’s civilian Community Service Officer’s role could potentially be expanded to possibly divert duties from officers.
“This is an opportune time to look at all of the jobs all of them do,” Taylor said.
Police Chief Dustin Liston advised the council that community service officers are limited in the duties they can legally perform. Council member Janice Weiner called for more information on those restraints.
Fruin’s plan calls for a part-time civilian outreach assistant to work with the city’s immigrant and refugee population. He hopes to hire that assistant from within the immigrant and refugee population, Fruin said.
The plan mentions exploring a pilot project that would require officers to spend a portion of their shift volunteering at an Iowa City-based nonprofit organization. While Fruin said current staffing levels don’t make that a feasible option now, Liston said many officers engage in those efforts on their own.
Inspired by last year’s city council listening sessions, Fruin envisions of town hall-style listening posts returning this fall to create more engagement opportunities with the community.
“There’s no reason we can’t do that on an ongoing basis,” he said. “Whether we have 400 people show up or 4 people show up, I think there’s value to that.”
The plan does not call for abolishing the police department.
“I think the police department is needed in many ways,” said Salih, who supports directing funding to other initiatives.
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