CEDAR RAPIDS — The Cedar Rapids City Council enthusiastically advanced plans for a citizens’ police review board Tuesday, taking its “first step” toward making Cedar Rapids more racially equitable.
This is only the beginning of work to be done, several council members said Tuesday as they gave the green light for the city manager to draft an ordinance outlining the structure of the panel.
Mayor Brad Hart said this is “a sign of so much work that’s been done and a big step forward” for Cedar Rapids.
“I really firmly believe that the Cedar Rapids Police Department is one of the very best,” Hart said. “Creating the CRB is a proactive step that I hope will build even more trust in our police department so more people will cooperate. That will allow our police officers to solve more crimes and every one of us will benefit from that.”
From here, the ordinance will go through a public hearing and the ordinance reading process before the council votes to adopt it sometime in the next two months.
Once the board receives final council support, it would be among 166 other communities with such boards across the country. And just five communities with these panels are also accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, which city officials have said would position Cedar Rapids’ police department as a national leader.
This is one of seven demands for police reform, put forth by the Advocates for Social Justice after George Floyd’s May 25 killing by Minneapolis police, that the council unanimously backed June 19.
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City staff recommended a review model for the board focused on public engagement, advising the city on police department policies and practices and reviewing citizen complaints.
Corporate leader Anne Harris Carter, a representative from the Advocates for Social Justice, said during public comment, “ASJ made the case at the outset for being at the table, and today we are seeing the results of that approach.”
She urged the council to authorize the proposed board to have access to records needed to investigate alleged police misconduct and to recommend disciplinary action based on those findings.
“If you are still hesitant, then start with the city’s published words: The city’s goal for establishing a citizens’ review board is to establish public safety accountability, bolster confidence in police, increase and improve public cooperation and make our community safer for everyone,” Carter said.
Community Development Director Jennifer Pratt said the review model is the most common activity of citizens’ review boards nationwide.
“It provides an opportunity to review how the policies and procedures are being followed and provides them with insight and to better understand the issues that face law enforcement, as well as building that trust in the process,” Pratt said.
She said staff have not proposed changes to the process for internal affairs investigations. After that investigation is completed within 60 days, then the police chief would report the results to the review panel.
The board members could have a closed session discussion with the police chief using unique identifiers instead of names of officers or witnesses. Correspondence from any discussions about personnel issues would not be made public.
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In addition to filing complaints about an officer’s conduct with the police department, Pratt said city staff propose expanding this to allow submission to the City Clerk’s Office to avoid “real or perceived obstacles” to submitting complaints.
Council member Dale Todd, who chairs the council’s Public Safety and Youth Services Committee, said he sees this as a series of initiatives with more community input to make the efforts more fruitful.
“It was the death of George Floyd that sort of made this conversation come to fruition as quickly as it did across our country,” Todd said. “ … This is a good first step. I look forward to more.”
National events like Floyd’s death or the fatal shooting death of Breonna Taylor by Louisville police “really shake all of us,” said council member Ashley Vanorny. She said such events make people think what action and oversight can ensure that never happens.
“It will take generations to undo the systemic racism and institutional racism that has intentionally become a fabric of our every day,” Vanorny said.
Council member Scott Overland lauded the step as a marker of leadership and progressivity by city leaders for venturing into “territory that none of us would have considered a few years ago.”
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