Government

Cedar Rapids advances public input process for police review board

Advocates for Social Justice plans Saturday march and panel discussion

Protesters march June 6 down Third Avenue SE in Cedar Rapids. Thousands gathered for the event, which began at Greene Sq
Protesters march June 6 down Third Avenue SE in Cedar Rapids. Thousands gathered for the event, which began at Greene Square before a march through downtown to protest racism, police brutality and the death of Minneapolis man George Floyd. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — City officials and local advocates for police reform continue on two paths for creating a citizens’ police review board — the advocates opting for research while keeping up the pressure, and city officials announcing a three-month process of public engagement.

The city announced a three-phase plan Friday: process development, public engagement and then recommendations.

Members of a local Black Lives Matter group that has drafted seven demands for police reform, the Advocates for Social Justice, have pushed against this process as a bureaucratic approach that squelches Black voices.

Groups including the city Civil Rights Commission and Cedar Rapids area branch of the American Association of University Women have backed calls for making police reform and taking strides toward equity.

“In developing partnerships, you must have trust, and for there to be trust, transparency is imperative,” said Linda Topinka, co-director of the local AAUW branch, in a statement asking officials to “explore the systemic racist culture of the City Council that prevents the Council from pursuing a transparent agenda” with the group.

City officials say their process is a more public, inclusive method of forming the review board. Mayor Brad Hart told the advocates that he, City Manager Jeff Pomeranz, Police Chief Wayne Jerman and City Council member Dale Todd do not plan to continue weekly talks with the group about its demands, though he has invited advocates to reach out individually.

The protest organizers are planning a march and panel with city officials from 5 to 8 p.m. Saturday starting at downtown’s Greene Square.

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Hart shared concerns with the group Friday by email about holding the event while the count of COVID-19 cases is rising.

“I hope you will encourage participants to wear masks and social distance, or consider postponing,” Hart wrote.

According to emails shared with The Gazette by Linn County Supervisor Stacey Walker, Hart also emailed Linn County Public Health Director Primod Dwivedi about the planned protest.

“I hope you will advise ASJ on the dangers of holding protests right now in Linn County,” the mayor’s email said.

Dwivedi responded that the county public health department does not have authority to stop a rally and that the event posed no unique risks compared with previous ones — but did say strategies like social distancing should be used.

“On a personal note, Mayor, as a resident of this city and country, I am delighted to see that some of our brothers and sisters — long suppressed — are finding a voice, an utterance,” Dwivedi wrote. “I hope that we will redeem our pledge and listen to these brothers and sisters of ours, and work collectively toward a just and equitable society.”

City Council member Ashley Vanorny commented on an Advocates for Social Justice Facebook post that she plans to attend Saturday’s event. She had not returned requests Friday for comment.

Hart told the advocates he would not attend because the city’s “process will be effective in gathering citizen input.”

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Residents can share ideas with the city at cedar-rapids.org/CRB, where feedback will be collected and shared with the council.

City officials are working with a vendor, the National Research Center, to survey Cedar Rapids residents. The survey will be available later this month through the city’s website and social media channels.

“Any time we’re doing public engagement, it really is making sure that we’re very aware of who we’re reaching out to and the different ways to reach groups,” said Jennifer Pratt, the city community development director.

Pratt said city staff plan to reach out to groups including the Advocates for Social Justice, the NAACP, neighborhood associations, church groups and faith leaders, schools and other community partners.

Community development staff will present information on the process, and eventually recommendations, to the council on July 28, Aug. 25 and either Sept. 22 or at a special meeting.

Comments: (319) 398-8494; marissa.payne@thegazette.com

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