Advocates for Social Justice unveils recommendations for Cedar Rapids citizens' police review board

Recommendations outline board's authorities, urge diverse membership

Amara Andrews shouts July 18 with other protesters on a march to Cedar Rapids City Hall during a #x201c;We Won't Be Sile
Amara Andrews shouts July 18 with other protesters on a march to Cedar Rapids City Hall during a “We Won’t Be Silenced” peaceful protest that began in Greene Square. The event was sponsored by Advocates for Social Justice. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — Citizens chosen to serve on a board overseeing the police force should have broad powers including the authority to subpoena witnesses and hire and fire the police chief, a group of advocates recommended Monday after conducting research and consulting with civil rights experts.

The Advocates for Social Justice, which has organized protests and presented the city with a list of demands for social justice reforms, has been at loggerheads with city officials over one of them in particular — forming a citizens’ review board.

The City Council, which has endorsed the groups’ goals, announced a 90-day process of gathering community input and forming recommendations for such a board.

The advocates, however, have done their own research and interviewed organizations including the NAACP and the nonprofit National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement to draft recommendations.

The document primarily was prepared by educational leadership expert Circe Stumbo, corporate leader Anne Harris Carter, Advocates for Social Justice leader Tamara Marcus and Linn County Supervisor Stacey Walker.

“Our team has been working non-stop to get these recommendations ready for the people of Cedar Rapids,” said Amara Andrews, a lawyer and community leader. “Given the level of research we have done and feedback we have received from national experts, we believe our recommendations are robust enough to start addressing some of the systemic issues within our police department.”

About two dozen individuals have backed the Black Lives Matter group’s 11 recommendations, including Emily Galvin-Almanza, founder and co-executive director of Partners for Justice; criminal-justice reform activist Phillip Agnew; social psychologist Evelyn Carter, a racial bias expert; and Linn County Public Health Director Primod Dwivedi.


The advocates urged the city to center race in the efforts to form a review board as city staff get community feedback through surveys and meetings. The City Council expects to review staff recommendations in the next two months.

Here are the group’s recommendations for a police review board:

• Legally backed reprimands for officer misconduct: The advocates recommend that the board have the authority to issue reprimands.

When panels present non-binding recommendations, like Iowa City’s citizens’ review board, there is “a general lack of confidence in the effectiveness” of the board, the report states.

The board’s findings would be binding and should be acted upon within 14 days. If the police chief disputes the rulings, the council would settle the matter in a public vote.

Such authority would require the city to amend its disciplinary directives. Officers now found to have violated department policy face discipline ranging from demotion to suspension or termination, and may file appeals with the Civil Service Commission.

• Make recommendations to local law enforcement agencies: The advocates recommend the board issue reports and recommendations to local law agencies and their governing bodies, and form a rating system to assess and propose changes in policies and practices, and review other relevant metrics.

Citizens Review Board Research Brief

“This enables the Board to identify strengths and shortfalls, monitor trends related to police conduct, and assess progress over a period of time,” the report states.

• Initiate investigations and make findings public: The panel would be able to initiate reviews at its discretion and have access to relevant documents and make its findings public.


The scope of the board should go beyond reviewing complaints, the report states, because “to rely solely on complaints as the basis for what the CRB may consider would be to put the burden of correcting systemic disparities on individual residents.”

This power would give the board access to witnesses and police documents as well as subpoena powers and mandatory cooperation of law enforcement officials. According to the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement, 31 of 55 review boards nationally responding to a survey reported they have subpoena power, which it reports reduces delays and provided evidence-based results.

• Review data of arrests and police stops: Demographic information including stops and arrests by race, ethnicity and gender would be reviewed as part of a public report given quarterly basis by the police chief.

“The report should be written in an easily accessible format and indicate trends in arrest rates, traffic stops, and complaints including race demographic data,” the report states. “Sharing this information would allow early identification of misconduct or bias and allow the board to assist in policy recommendations ...”

• Have authority to delegate investigation powers: If caseload exceeds capacity for the review board, this would allow other groups such as the Civil Rights Commission to assume the panel’s review authority.

• Ensure timely provision of internal investigation results: The advocates advised that the results of police department internal investigations for officer misconduct or use-of-force cases be turned over to the panel in a timely manner throughout the board’s investigation.

• Expand definition of “use of force”: The definition would include the action of “when an officer draws their firearm on a subject or uses their firearm during precautionary positioning maneuvers,” making this action subject to the panel’s review powers.

• Form a diverse board: The board should be diverse as it is “rooted in concerns of subjecting communities of color to disproportionate police oversight and use of excessive force,” and gender-balance as required by Iowa Code. The makeup of the board should consider the city’s racial and ethnic demographics, overall and by age, as well as crime statistics including alleged and convicted perpetrators.


• Specify membership in bylaws: At least half of a proposed 11-member panel would be made up of people of color and all 11 would be Cedar Rapids residents. There should be at least one lawyer, the advocates said.

Members would serve staggered three-year terms with limits. The advocates recommend the board itself select most new members — nine of the spots would be filled by people current members nominate and the mayor would fill the other two openings. The council would confirm all nominees.

The document does not indicate how the board’s first members would be appointed.

• Provide resources to support training and investigations: Among them would be staff, legal counsel, communications support and training on police department practices and policies for board members.

• Have oversight of the police chief: The panel would be authorized to hire and fire the chief, as the Oakland, Calif., board does. Currently, the chief is hired by the city manager with the consent of the council.

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