116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Marion leaders are reluctant to move forward on instituting a citizen review board of police. We hope they reconsider.
The city last year took up a commitment to promote equity in local policing. One proposal is a citizen review board to vet complaints and guide city policy. At a Community Equity Task Force meeting last week, staffers downplayed the value of the idea.
“There aren’t events or data to justify a citizen review board in this city that I’ve heard about. There have been no shootings, no physical abuse issues,” said Tom Newkirk, a civil rights lawyer hired as a consultant for the task force.
Why wait for a tragedy to bolster citizen oversight?
The idea that only a catastrophic case of police misconduct would necessitate a citizen review board takes a very narrow view of the potential such boards have. Reviewing complaints against police is just one part of it, along with analyzing data on a regular basis and providing policy recommendations.
City officials are emphasizing their work to increase data collection about officer conduct and promote access to body camera footage. That’s great, and it would be even better if there was a citizen body tasked with reviewing those materials.
Review boards in Iowa are extremely limited in the role they can play in officer discipline, as critics of the idea in Marion recently pointed out. It might take significant changes to the law to establish an adequate level of accountability.
That underscores the need for more municipal review boards of police, limited as their scope might currently be. Review boards can be useful mechanisms to study the current law and establish legislative advocacy priorities. A statewide network of review boards would be most effective, and Marion would add a valuable voice as a smaller city than Des Moines and Iowa City.
The Community Equity Task Force, established last year during the Black Lives Matter protest movement, seemingly has struggled so far to make tangible progress and define the parameters of its work. Advocates at the recent meeting lamented “just sitting and watching power points” and “all this lawyer talk.”
Establishing a citizen review board of police would be a good way to set the task force’s vision in motion.
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