Public Safety

This is what Cedar Rapids Black Lives Matter protesters are demanding

Activist Ray Walker of Cedar Rapids speaks May 31 to a crowd of hundreds gathered at the Linn County Courthouse to prote
Activist Ray Walker of Cedar Rapids speaks May 31 to a crowd of hundreds gathered at the Linn County Courthouse to protest the death of George Floyd in Minnesota. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — A Cedar Rapids-based Black Lives Matter group — the Advocates for Social Justice — began meeting with representatives of the city in June to make progress on seven demands for police reform.

Mayor Brad Hart told the group Friday that he and other city officials do not plan to continue participating in those meetings. The council is proceeding with opportunities for broader public comment, he said.

• In Marion: Six demands from organizers

• In Iowa City: More than a dozen demands

Here are the advocates’ seven demands, according to a six-page document provided by the advocates, and where they stand with the Cedar Rapids City Council:

1. Issue: Citizens’ review board of police.

Status: The creation of a review board is the top priority for the Advocates for Social Justice.

The board, which the advocates ask be made up of mostly non-law enforcement community members, would have the authority to investigate allegations of officer misconduct and review instances of excessive or lethal force by an officer.

“It’s accountability,” said Tamara Marcus, 28, an organizer with the advocates. “The ability for citizens to review actions of officers with the idea that there would be repercussions.”

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

The advocates are asking that the board receive and review public quarterly reports of police stops and arrests with breakdowns of demographics including race and ethnicity.

The City Council vowed to enact a citizens’ review board in a June 19 resolution, and is asking for community input on how the board should be developed.

Models across the United States vary, according to the U.S. Justice Department.

The information about what model will be used and membership will be determined as the council gathers public input. More details will be provided Tuesday’s council meeting, Hart said.

“In order to keep moving toward our goal of creating a Cedar Rapids Citizen Review Board, our Community Development Department will be leading a public input process, similar to what is done for our other large community initiatives,” he said. “Their role will be as a resource to facilitate discussion, record and compile research, and to assist in navigating required policies and procedures.”

After that, there will be a presentation to the council July 28 providing an overview of the process. There will be another presentation Aug. 25 on input from a public survey, which will be distributed to neighborhood associations and churches and is available to the community online.

A presentation to the council is planned for Sept. 22 on results and recommendations.

2. Issue: Significant investment in diversity, equity and inclusion.

Status: The advocates are demanding the police department train officers in de-escalation, crisis intervention and community policing. Incentive programs should also be developed to encourage officers to live in the communities they police.

The Iowa Law Enforcement Academy’s curriculum set requirements to teach Biased Based Policing starting this year, city spokeswoman Maria Johnson said, though Cedar Rapids has taught this for four years. The Cedar Rapids Regional Police Academy also teaches cultural competency and race relations, she said, in addition to other courses on the values of being a good police officer and annual implicit biased training for all officers.

The advocates have asked that training be conducted in-person and by a person of color. Johnson said some classes are taught by people of color, but not all.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

The police department anticipates trying to reschedule a tour of the African American Museum of Iowa as part of its academy training for 2021, Johnson said, as COVID-19 had prompted the department to suspend all training.

A hiring practice that gives preference to people who live within the neighborhoods they wish to police should be developed, the advocates demanded. Johnson said Cedar Rapids police fall under civil service law, so residency is not a factor considered in hiring.

Iowa Code states that “employees shall not be required to be a resident of the city in which they are employed, but they shall become a resident of the state within two years of such appointment or the date employment begins.”

3. Issue: Ban the use of police chokeholds.

Status: While the Cedar Rapids Police Department already prohibits the use of chokeholds, knee-to-neck maneuvers and other lethal restraining techniques unless “deadly force is justified,” according to their use of force policy, the advocates are reiterating it as a demand.

The advocates ask that the use of deadly force never be used against people who are “fleeing and pose no imminent threat to the officer or another person” or if the subject already is in restraints.

Officers who witness another officer unduly using force are to intervene, according to policy.

Cedar Rapids police officers receive regular training in de-escalation techniques, Johnson said, “including ‘Verbal Judo’ that provides necessary skills to redirect behavior and generate voluntary compliance, which increases personal safety and enhances professionalism.”

4. Issue: Decriminalize minor marijuana offenses.

While the advocates recognize the City Council doesn’t have the authority to decriminalize marijuana, they are asking officers to write only citations for low-level offenses or let violators go completely instead of making arrests.

Until state or federal drug laws change, the advocates want the police department to develop a new standard for issuing citations to avoid bias.

In marijuana possession cases, a Black person in Iowa is 7.3 times more likely than a white person to be arrested, according to an ACLU study of national law enforcement data.

Iowa Code classifies marijuana possession as a serious misdemeanor.

“The Iowa Legislature is responsible for determining the severity of drug manufacture and possession charges in state statutes,” Johnson said. “The city is committed to working with our legislators with recommendations from our community.”

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

This is one of three demands the council has agreed to further study to understand the implications of state and federal law, in addition to making police negotiations public and abolishing qualified immunity for officers. Conclusions will be presented to the council in August.

5. Issue: Impose strict police body camera provisions.

Status: Body cameras should be worn by all officers on active duty and by staff when in the field, the advocates ask.

Cameras should never be turned off or tampered with during an officer’s shift, and failure to comply with the provision should result in immediate termination, they demand.

Body camera recordings should be subject to review by the citizens police review board.

Cedar Rapids Police Department policy states that “officers shall activate their cameras to record all contacts with citizens in the performance of official duties.”

If an officer fails to record the entire contact in a situation required, the officer must document why and say if there was an interruption.

Officers found to have violated the policy face discipline ranging from demotion to suspension or termination under department directives.

“The Police Chief’s Advisory Committee provided input and reviewed the policy, as well as the United States Department of Justice and the American Civil Liberties Union,” Johnson said.

6. Issue: Make police negotiations public.

Status: The advocacy group is asking that negotiations between municipal authorities and the bargaining units representing police officers be public “if a quorum of municipal elected officials attend these negotiations, the meetings would be required by law to be public.”

“Taxpayers deserve the transparency that comes with making these negotiations public,” according to the demands.

Currently, no elected officials attend contract negotiations, Johnson said. The collective bargaining agreement with the Cedar Rapids Police Bargaining Union is posted on the city’s website.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

“The city is willing to open parts of negotiations between the City and employee organizations in accordance with Iowa Open Meetings laws,” Johnson said. “Bargaining contracts are also on the City Council agenda and the public has an opportunity to comment before Council approves these agreements.”

7. Issue: Abolish qualified immunity.

While the advocates recognize the council does not have the authority to abolish qualified immunity for officers, they are demanding the city and police chief lobby state and federal officials for the “abolition of this unjust protection.”

Qualified immunity shields government officials from being held liable for constitutional violations like the use of excessive police force.

Individuals can still seek damages from an officer who knowingly violated statutory or constitutional rights.

“The city is committed to recommend and develop meaningful solutions for accountability,” Johnson said. “Currently, there is an internal review process for all officer misconduct complaints that is in compliance with (Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies) standards. Further, an individual who has a grievance could also file a complaint with the State Ombudsman’s Office, State Civil Rights Commission, or file a lawsuit.”

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.