Government

Cedar Rapids city staff unveils recommendations for citizens' police review board

Recommendations stop short of powers that advocates asked for

Protestors march down Third Avenue SE in Cedar Rapids on Saturday, June 6, 2020. Thousands gathered for the event, which
Protestors march down Third Avenue SE in Cedar Rapids on Saturday, June 6, 2020. Thousands gathered for the event, which began at Greene Square before a march through downtown Cedar Rapids, to protest racism, police brutality and the death of Minneapolis man George Floyd. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — The city’s staff is recommending a narrower scope of powers for a citizens’ law enforcement review board than what racial justice advocates have called for, limiting the board’s authority to investigate allegations of police misconduct and issue reprimands.

The Cedar Rapids City Council is scheduled to hear a Community Development staff presentation at its 4 p.m. Tuesday meeting further detailing the recommendations for how a potential board could be structured.

According to the city staff’s proposal for key elements of a citizens’ review board, the panel would review results of professional standards investigations via a police chief’s report.

An investigation would be completed within 60 days of a citizen’s complaint and the chief would provide a report on the findings at the next scheduled board meeting. If the panel, whose members would have access to body camera footage and audio, has questions about the outcome of the investigation, its could have a closed-session discussion with the chief and return the matter to the chief for more consideration.

The board could issue recommendations on departmental policy and could seek a full independent investigation from the state ombudsman.

Personnel information shared with the panel would be discussed only in closed session and made confidential.

The Advocates for Social Justice, the local Black Lives Matter group that prompted the nine-member council to commit to seven demands for police reform after George Floyd’s killing May 25 by Minneapolis police, called for broader investigative powers in recommendations it unveiled in July.

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“While a CRB can offer residents confidence that their complaints of misconduct or harassment will be taken seriously and investigated, 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,” the group’s research memo states.

City staff’s recommendations grant the board some involvement in hiring a police chief by designating the panel’s chair or a designee to serve on a police chief candidate selection committee. The staff also suggests that issues of the chief’s conduct be remanded to the state ombudsman.

The advocates, however, recommended the citizens’ board have full authority to fire the police chief.

The city staff recommendations are in line with the advocates’ request that the board receive and review quarterly reports from the police chief, including data such as police stops and arrests with breakdowns of racial and ethnic demographic information. The panel would review police data to identify areas for improvement and establish a baseline to track progress, and issue recommendations to the city on police policies and practices.

There would be quarterly public forums to discuss policies, procedures and data to promote public engagement, awareness and relationship-building, city staff recommend.

Finally, the staff proposes nine residents serve on the panel with a gender balance and with at least 50 percent of members being people of color. The advocates had asked for strong representation of people of color, as members of marginalized communities are “disproportionately surveilled, arrested and incarcerated,” according to their memo.

Staff recommend that most seats be designated to agencies like the NAACP and League of United Latin American Citizens, and that one member also be a lawyer.

The mayor would make recommendations based on accepted applications and the council would approve members.

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Those chosen to sit on the panel would serve staggered three-year terms and their service would be capped at two terms. Initial members would serve at least two years.

Recommendations for the board’s membership largely align with the advocates’ recommendations, although the advocates asked that most subsequent members be chosen by current members and allowed for the mayor to choose two members, all subject to council approval. The advocates left open how the initial members would be selected.

Under the staff proposal, there would be training for panel members and “resources necessary to perform duties and functions assigned,” as well as staffing to be determined later.

The staff recommendations were drafted based on survey responses from more than 2,200 Cedar Rapids residents and focus group meetings, where a majority of residents reported that they backed the city’s formation of a board.

The council members will not take a final vote Tuesday on the panel’s structure. They may consider advancing a resolution that would allow the city manager to draft an ordinance so the council may later consider it after a public hearing and the full ordinance-passing process.

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

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