Government

Iowa City Council calls for remaking police department

'Unarmed professionals' could respond to non-violent situations

The Iowa City City Hall, which includes the Police Department in Iowa City on Wednesday, November 5, 2014. (File photo/T
The Iowa City City Hall, which includes the Police Department in Iowa City on Wednesday, November 5, 2014. (File photo/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — Change is coming to the Iowa City Police Department.

In response to days of local and national protests in the wake of the police officer killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Iowa City will come up with a plan before the end of the year to restructure its police department “toward community policing, including, but not limited to, reduction of the public’s reliance on police in non-violent situations through use of unarmed professionals.”

The commitment is among those unanimously approved at the end of a more-than-four-hour meeting Tuesday night where the City Council affirmed its initial promise to address systemic racism and the demands of the Iowa Freedom Riders, a local group representing the Black Lives Matter movement.

A majority of the group’s demands pertain directly to either the city police department or the Community Police Review Board, which reviews citizen complaints against police officers.

What a restructured police department would look like is unclear since the council did not discuss the topic in depth. It committed to come up with a plan by Dec. 15.

“We won’t abandon the core need for a local government to make its residents safe,” said council member Laura Bergus, who drafted the resolution.

Bergus said armed police officers represent a “significant impediment” to some residents feeling safe. Having officers respond to some calls, she said. does not necessarily lead to a “peaceful, successful de-escalation.”

Council member Janice Weiner noted that police officers must deal with mental health, the homeless population and “a whole variety of things” that shouldn’t be part of their duties. She and other council members called for looking at other cities that have made progress in restructuring their departments for ideas.

Mayor Bruce Teague called for a closer look into the police department’s budget, which the council approves annually along with the rest of the city budget. A detailed version of the budget was uploaded earlier this week to the department’s website.

“What we’re going to be doing is going to be major,” Teague said.

City Manager Geoff Fruin urged the council to take a “deep dive” into the department’s calls for service to determine which could best be split off for a non-police response. Officers responded to more than 77,000 calls for service in 2019.

“I think that’s an absolute must going forward to inform the discussion,” Fruin said.

Council member John Thomas urged the council to view the plan it comes up with as a preliminary one.

“Keep in mind that Minneapolis is allowing itself a year,” Thomas said. “If we’re going to achieve what I think we’re going to achieve with this particular item, it may take longer.”

Other aspects of the resolution adopted Tuesday night include dedicating $1 million to racial equity and social justice; creating a Truth and Reconciliation Commission “to bear witness to the truth of racial injustice in Iowa City and to carry out restorative justice”; having an independent review of the use of flash bangs and tear gas on protesters during their June 3 demonstration; receiving a report on how to strengthen the police review board; requiring police officers to use body cameras and intervene when excessive force is used by another officer; and making Juneteenth a city holiday.

In a separate resolution, council members said they will urge the city and the Johnson County Attorney’s Office to drop charges against protesters. Council member Susan Mims said she was not in favor of dropping some charges related to public safety, such as speeding and drunken driving. But she was outnumbered by her colleagues, including Mayor Pro Tem Mazahir Salih who said protesters were unfairly “targeted.”

Teague compared the criminal activity with what takes place during Iowa Hawkeyes home football games.

“We see it all the time,” he said. “We see it for football games here. That’s an allotment, an acceptance of behaviors that would not be tolerated any other time. Once the game is over, behavior is back to normal. ... I support waiving all of the charges given the event and the circumstances.”

Comments: (319) 339-3155; lee.hermiston@thegazette.com

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