116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
We should want to live in a world that doesn’t require police. When our goals for public safety fail to imagine such a world, we can’t expect much to change.
For too many, police do not mean safety. As a system and across jurisdictions, policing and its consequences negatively impact Black and brown people at disproportionately high rates. It is a system premised on dominance by force. It condones the use of violence, even deadly violence, for the sake of compliance. Even the gentlest arrest is inherently dehumanizing. Nearly every level of police violence is enshrined in the law. If an officer oversteps, accountability is rare.
This system cannot be undone by even the most compassionate and good police officers, like those who serve in the Iowa City Police Department. Equity in community safety requires systemic change.
We need to talk about abolishing the police.
Only systemic changes can solve systemic problems. As a city council member, I believe local government must be part of the solution. Even without knowing exactly what should replace policing as we know it, we must try something different.
Abolishing the police does not mean an end to emergency response. We need trained professionals whose job it is to intervene.
Iowa City already values alternatives to policing. We understand many crimes result from a lack of resources and alternatives. We support numerous grassroot and institutional groups working towards more affordable and inclusive housing, food security, economic opportunity, accessible arts, improved mobility and close-knit neighborhoods.
For our community members in crisis, we know to prioritize help over punishment. The GuideLink Center is a great example, providing collaborative, holistic support while diverting those who need help away from the jail and emergency room. With increased support of models like CommUnity’s Mobile Crisis Outreach Program and integration of non-police alternatives into our 911 dispatch system, trained mental health professionals can be first responders.
We also know open and vibrant neighborhoods reinforce people looking out for each other. To that end, Iowa City already invests in parks and trails, and brings recreation and library programming to every part of town.
Abolishing the police does not mean an end to emergency response. We need trained professionals whose job it is to intervene. Currently, we have firefighters and paramedics who respond in a wide variety of emergencies. We should imagine other unarmed, professional interveners who approach every person with unconditional positive regard and are trained to minimize harm without causing pain.
Abolishing the police also does not mean a world without laws or civil order. The crimes in our town are mostly non-violent. The vast majority are victimless. A public servant doesn’t need the option of lethal force to issue a speeding ticket, investigate crime or tell a group of drunk revelers to knock it off.
Local governments already have many officials tasked with enforcing the law who are not police: building inspectors, crossing guards, parking attendants and community service officers. Even in situations where violence is possible, we must consider the inherent escalation armed police bring to a scene.
I remain pragmatic. I will promote workable, not just ideological, solutions. As a city council member who has committed to restructuring the police, the possibility of abolition must be on the table as we consider the 36 recommendations of the preliminary plan to restructure the ICPD.
I also know my plea to consider a world without police comes in the context of many challenges. Other law enforcement agencies will have authority to operate in our community no matter what Iowa City does. I also have been watching the Iowa Legislature’s push to enhance qualified immunity and to prohibit cities from limiting police power or funding. I know last year saw more shots-fired incidents in Iowa City than ever before, most of which were in my neighborhood. We are less than one year in to our five-year police union contract. I voted in favor of hiring our new police chief.
Still, I hope Iowa City will imagine and reach for a future without police.
Laura Bergus is an at-large member of the Iowa City Council.