Education

Nearly 40 percent of University of Iowa police use-of-force incidents involved Black suspects

Most of those reports did not involve UI students

Community members gather on the Pentacrest during a June 20 Juneteenth Celebration in Iowa City, which capped more than
Community members gather on the Pentacrest during a June 20 Juneteenth Celebration in Iowa City, which capped more than two weeks of protests for racial justice in Iowa City. The University of Iowa Department of Public Safety on Thursday released its review of use-of-force incidents. (Nick Rohlman/freelance)

IOWA CITY — About 38 percent of the use-of-force incidents reported by University of Iowa police in three years involved Black suspects, the UI Department of Public Safety reports.

Officers handled 53 such incidents between 2017 and 2019, according to a review the department undertook after a summer of Black Lives Matter protests.

However, only 14 percent of the use-of-force contacts in those three years involved UI students.

In the fall of 2019, 3 percent of all UI students identified as African American. In 2019, 8 percent of Iowa City’s population identified as Black, according to the U.S. Census.

“Over the last few months, our department has heard members of our community express their fear, anger and frustration with law enforcement,” the UI Department of Public Safety said in a campus message, which also outlined its response to the national #8CantWait movement.

“We hear you, we grieve with you and we are ready not just to listen, but to make meaningful changes.”

The department has 45 state-certified police officers who patrol the campus.

In June — after protests of George Floyd’s death flooded Iowa City streets, subjecting protesters at one point to flash bangs and tear gas — UI and city leaders committed to, among other things, reviewing their police department policies and actions.

The university also vowed to establish training and operational requirements via its diversity, equity and inclusion action plan. And it charged a new Reimagining Campus Safety Action Committee with identifying “strategies, tactics and timelines for creating a campus community that supports the safety of all individuals.”

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Iowa’s other public universities took similar steps — and both Iowa State University and the University of Northern Iowa have responded to the national #8CantWait movement that outlines eight use-of-force policing changes it says must happen now.

UI’s Department of Public Safety message this week reports meeting “all benchmarks, in practice and policy,” outlined in the #8CantWait push.

On at least two points, UI police policy differs slightly from the movement’s demands — including its calls for police departments to ban chokeholds and strangleholds “in all cases” and to bar officers from shooting at moving vehicles “in all cases.”

“While some departments may restrict shooting at vehicles to particular situations, these loopholes allow for police to continue killing in situations that are all too common,” according to the national movement’s website.

UI policy prohibits officers from using choke holds, “unless deadly force is otherwise justified.” Its policy on shooting at vehicles urges officers to move out of an approaching vehicle’s path instead of firing a weapon “when feasible.”

“An officer should only discharge a firearm at a moving vehicle or its occupants when the officer reasonably believes there are no other reasonable means available to avert the imminent threat of the vehicle, or if deadly force other than the vehicle is directed at the officer or others,” according to the UI policy.

UNI and Iowa State policies include similar caveats. ISU officers are barred from shooting at a moving vehicle “unless no other reasonable option exists, and a greater imminent danger to an innocent person(s) is posed by the officer not discharging a firearm.”

UI officials did not immediately respond to The Gazette’s questions about UIPD’s caveats.

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UI police are conducting a more thorough policy review “to ensure they align with reforms outlined by organizations calling for change.”

The department in June signed a memorandum of understanding with other area law enforcement requiring officers to “intercede if they observe another officer using unreasonable force, no matter their agency or rank.”

UIPD continues to hire and train students to break down student-officer barriers and serve as ambassadors — employing more than 100 student security officers per academic year, with about 10 deployed any given night to provide peer-safety supports and bystander intervention.

The department last year updated its car and body camera system with improved technologies.

The UI Reimagining Campus Safety Action Committee also is working toward changes affecting those “who have traditionally experienced disproportionate harm from systems such as law enforcement.”

That group’s recommendations are due to UI President Bruce Harreld by spring, “with a goal of having a new structure in place by July 2021.”

Comments: (319) 339-3158; vanessa.miller@thegazette.com

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