University of Northern Iowa explicitly bans chokeholds, 'unless the use of deadly force is justified'

UNI policing review comes after George Floyd-incited protests

University of Northern Iowa. (Still from UNI Facebook video)
University of Northern Iowa. (Still from UNI Facebook video)

University of Northern Iowa’s Department of Public Safety has updated its “use of force policy” to ban chokeholds in most cases and to require officers intervene and report instances of unreasonable force following a summer review compelled by civil unrest and policing protests.

UNI recently wrapped its internal review, which studied its campus police operations and policies, mental health incident training for officers, and policing statistics — including demographics of those involved in officer interactions and incident reports.

It found, among other things, that although choke and strangleholds already were not incorporated into officer training and thus “were not a sanctioned use of force tactic,” they also weren’t explicitly barred in written policy.

“In order to align established UNI PD practice with official policy, the use of force policy was updated to reflect established practices,” according to an initial summary of findings from the summer review, made public this week. “The written policy now bans chokeholds unless the use of deadly force is justified.”

That policy amendment doesn’t precisely align with the national “8 Can’t Wait” movement advocating for “immediate change to police departments,” starting with eight policies that “can’t wait,” including banning choke holds and strangleholds.

According to the movement’s suggestion, “chokeholds and all other neck restraints must be banned in all cases.” UNI’s policy update bars them “unless the use of deadly force is justified.”

UNI policy also now explicitly requires officers to intervene and report instances of unreasonable force — even though its field training program incorporated that duty previously.


And UNI police added a provision to its use of force policy banning officers from shooting at moving vehicles, even though it already covered that in its vehicle pursuit policy. The UNI policy addition, like its chokeholds amendment, doesn’t entirely align with the national movement’s call to, “ban 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 8 Can’t Wait movement. “This must be categorically banned.”

UNI’s new policy does not ban shooting at moving vehicles outright, although a summary of the change notes it does “severely restrict the conditions under which an officer may shoot at a vehicle.”

For example, officers are allowed to use it “as a last resort to prevent death or serious injury.”

“Coupled with the restriction is the requirement that the circumstances provide a high probability of hitting the intended target, with minimal risk to the safety of others,” according to the UNI summary. “Additionally, if an officer is in the path of a moving vehicle, when feasible, the officer has a duty to take defensive action and get out the vehicle’s path.”

As for the other five 8 Can’t Wait recommendations — including those requiring de-escalation and warnings before shooting — UNI already included those in its most recent use of force policy revision in May 2018, according to its summarized review findings.

Although only two years out from that, UNI opted for another review “in the wake of the national movement on policing that began this summer following the tragic murder of George Floyd.”

The UNI review summary noted campus police already are innately different from metropolitan agencies, in that they’re “much more community focused” and are able to refer students through the campus code of conduct process rather than the court system.


“Non‐university police officers often reference the university student conduct referral process as a desirable intermediate option,” according to the UNI summary. “By taking advantage of the student conduct referral process, university police officers appreciate being part of the educational process and contributing to student success.”

The report noted UNI officers, though, don’t only interact with the campus’ students, employees, and visitors. In that their jurisdiction is based on geography not UNI affiliation, UNI police “encounter people from neighboring communities, people from across Iowa, and people from all over the country and world.”

UNI police also work closely with the Student Health Center to get counseling services for those they interact with. And UNI Police Chief Helen Haire in a statement said her department is constantly working to ensure everyone is treated fairly and equitably.

“It’s our responsibility to enhance a culture of respect and caring in every interaction we have with students, and we’re committed to doing so through actionable change,” Haire said. “We want to build momentum on campus for an environment in which everyone can thrive.”

Statistical review

The department reviewed arrest and citation data from 2019 “to ensure there was no inequity within the demographics of individuals involved in university police incidents.”

UNI’s fall 2019 enrollment, including undergraduate and graduate students, was 82 percent white, with just 2.4 percent identifying as Black or African American. Of its 1,736 employees in 2019, 87 percent were white and 4.5 percent identified as Black or African American.

Statistics reported via the UNI police review found of the department’s 16 drunken driving arrests in 2019, 12 involved white suspects, or 75 percent; two involved Black suspects, or 13 percent; and the remaining two were unknown.

Of the six UNI-affiliated individuals arrested for operating while intoxicated, four were white and two were of unknown race or ethnicity.

Of 14 individuals UNI police charged with minor in possession, 12 were white, one was Native American, and one was of unknown ethnicity.


Of the 40 UNI arrests for possession of a controlled substance, 29 were white, or 73 percent; six were Black, or 15 percent; and Native American, Asian, and Hispanic each had one. Two were of unknown ethnicity.

Of the 19 of those possession arrests with UNI affiliation, 15 were white, or 79 percent. The department reported one arrest each in the Black, Asian, Native American, and unknown categories.

And of the 67 speeding tickets UNI police issued in 2019, 51 went to white drivers, or 76 percent; 10 went to Black drivers, or 15 percent; two went to Asian drivers, and four were unknown, according to the UNI report.

“Out of our duty of care to students and the broader community, we are committed to ongoing learning and professional development of our law enforcement officers,” said Haire. “We believe in the educational mission of the university and the role our officers play in supporting the success of students and the safety of our campus community.”

Other universities

Iowa State University police “are always reviewing how officers interact with the public,” spokeswoman Angie Hunt told The Gazette on Wednesday. Over the summer, the department issued a direct response to the “8 Can’t Wait” demands, updating the campus on where it stands on each point.

Like UNI, ISU doesn’t ban choke and strangleholds outright but bars them “unless the officer is justified in using deadly force and no other alternative is available.”

ISU also bans shooting at moving vehicles “unless no other reasonable option exists, and a greater imminent danger to an innocent person is posed by the officer not discharging a firearm.”

Regarding an ISU officer’s duty to intervene, all Iowa State employees must do so are ask for assistance “if they witness another employee or sworn officer engaging in an activity they believe to be a violation of civil rights or an unjustified or excessive use of force.”

The University of Iowa and Iowa City in June issued a joint statement after Floyd’s killing tasking the Iowa City Community Police Review Board and UI Student Government to review police policies.


Iowa City has been actively updating its policing practices and policies, and UI Police are working on a similar review to UNI’s, although spokeswoman Hayley Bruce said its findings haven’t yet been released.

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