Government

Plan to restructure Iowa City Police Department focuses on mental health, unbiased policing

City manager's plan includes partnerships and new positions

Protesters gather on Washington Street near the Iowa City Police Department on Tuesday, June 2, 2020. The largely peacef
Protesters gather on Washington Street near the Iowa City Police Department on Tuesday, June 2, 2020. The largely peaceful protest included a group of several hundred people holding signs and marching through downtown Iowa City. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
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IOWA CITY — With an eye toward diverting as many crisis calls from officers as possible, forging partnerships in the community and creating new public safety roles, Iowa City Manager Geoff Fruin outlined a preliminary plan Tuesday for restructuring the Iowa City Police Department.

Responding to demands of Black Lives Matter protesters, the Iowa City Council resolved six months ago to — among over a dozen other items — call for a preliminary plan for restructuring the department with a community policing model in mind.

During the council’s work session Tuesday evening, Fruin walked the council through the highlights of his 246-page plan and 36 recommendations. He said his report and recommendations were the result of a seven-month deep dive into the department’s operations, policies and procedures.

“One thing I’m very certain of is we have a very good police department,” Fruin said. “They’re good, caring people and want nothing more than to serve the people of this community.”

Fruin said the plan he presented was not meant to be a blueprint, but rather the start of a process designed to be scalable and keep the conversation about policing and racial justice going in Iowa City.

The recommendations are divided into three categories of creating a continuum of responses to mental health crisis calls, unbiased policing and moving forward.

Within the continuum of recommendations, Fruin outlined action items with the goals of reducing mental health crisis calls, diverting as many of those calls from police officers to other individuals and agencies, co-responding to calls with representatives from other agencies and stabilizing calls involving volatile situations or when a co-responder team isn’t available.

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Specific recommendations included pursuing a local-option sales tax to support a grant program supporting local initiatives and investing more in local nonprofits, determining if automated traffic enforcement devices are worth pursuing, forming a partnership with Foundation 2 and CommUnity Crisis Services to create a co-response team, exploring expanding the duties of the department’s civilian Community Service Officers and continuing Crisis Intervention Training for all officers.

Within the unbiased policing recommendations, Fruin outlines an expanded field training program for probationary officers, additional peer intervention training, seeking training through community organizations such as the Black Voices Project and NAACP, showing renewed support for the Citizens Police Review Board and assigning a liaison to the Human Rights Commission.

“I see a lot of opportunity here,” Fruin said.

Fruin’s policing forward recommendations include requiring officers to spend a portion of their time volunteering or working on a community service project, hosting quarterly listening posts, creating a public safety apprenticeship and skill-building program and offering study sessions and support programs to increase the number and diversity of police officer candidates.

Fruin’s recommendations also include creating several new positions, including a homeless outreach position, a co-responder position, civilian outreach staff to work directly with immigrant and refugee populations and a civilian public safety communications specialist. He did not call for a reduction in the city’s 84 sworn police officers.

“I strongly advocate for keeping the same number of sworn employees,” he said.

Fruin’s comments lasted until the end of the scheduled work session, and he called on the council members to take an in-depth look at his proposal and pursue community feedback.

“You should do everything you can to get folks to provide you feedback on this,” he said.

The council agreed to take the recommendations up at a later work session. The plan and Fruin’s recommendations are available at www.icgov.org/preliminaryplan. Feedback can be sent to PolicePlan@iowa-city.org.

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

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