Public Safety

Iowa can at times take years to decertify officers for crimes

FILE - In this June 12, 2020 file photo, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds signs bipartisan legislation in Des Moines, Iowa , banni
FILE - In this June 12, 2020 file photo, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds signs bipartisan legislation in Des Moines, Iowa , banning most police chokeholds and addressing officer misconduct. The Iowa Law Enforcement Academy Council, an Iowa agency that was recently granted new powers to remove problem officers, can take years to ban those who commit serious crimes and rarely sanctions officers for improper policing alone, review by The Associated Press shows. (Olivia Sun/The Des Moines Register via AP)

IOWA CITY — An Iowa agency recently granted more power to remove problem officers has routinely taken years to ban those who commit serious crimes and rarely has sanctioned officers for improper policing alone, a review by the Associated Press shows.

The Iowa Law Enforcement Academy Council has sought to decertify 17 officers in the last 21/2 years after determining they had committed crimes or misconduct that warranted their permanent removal from the profession.

The AP review found that most of those officers had been found guilty of felonies, domestic violence or other crimes that should automatically disqualify them from working in law enforcement under Iowa law.

Only one officer since 2018 has been decertified for improper police work alone: a Cedar Rapids patrolman who arrested a man without probable cause and filed false reports.

None of the cases reviewed by AP involved allegations of excessive force or racism against the more than 7,000 certified full-time and reserve officers in the state.

In response to protests against police brutality and racial injustice, Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds signed a law this month that expands the types of behavior that require officers to be decertified.

The law for the first time requires that the council expel officers who engage in “serious misconduct,” including the repeated use of excessive force and the fabrication of evidence.

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The council will develop rules defining what type of misconduct may trigger suspension and removal under the new law, academy director Judy Bradshaw said. She’s also studying how much staff the 13-member council that includes sheriffs, police chiefs and citizens will need to process cases.

The new law also requires departments to report details of misconduct to the council within 10 days of an officer’s firing or resignation — seeking to close a gap that has contributed to delays in decertification or missed cases.

State Rep. Ras Smith, a Waterloo Democrat who helped write the new law, said some chiefs have defended problematic officers who use improper force or allowed them to quietly resign. He said the law sends a message that the public wants a harder stance against officers who abuse their power.

“We’re going to have to create a more robust and transparent process” for removing officers, he said. “And we’re going to have to find out why this takes so long.”

Previously, the law required the council to remove officers for felonies and other specific crimes and gave it some discretion to act against those who were fired or resigned due to misconduct.

The council’s review process is cloaked in confidentiality. The council does not release information about whether an officer is under investigation for potential decertification. It reviews cases during closed meetings before voting to dismiss many of them without seeking an unidentified officer’s removal or offering any public explanation.

Even in cases in which removal is mandatory, the council routinely takes a year or longer to file petitions seeking decertification after an officer has been convicted. A hearing before an administrative law judge and a council vote can add another year before the action is final.

Some take far longer. Two recent cases involved misconduct allegations dating to 2011 and 2012 that weren’t reported to the state or investigated until this year.

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Dennis Beadle was sentenced to prison in 2016 for sexual abuse he carried out while working as a reserve officer, but he didn’t formally lose the ability to work in the profession until April 2019.

A former Tama police chief who pleaded guilty in 2017 to selling vehicles and guns in the department’s possession for personal profit wasn’t decertified until March 2020.

Bradshaw said she puts the top priority on cases involving accused officers who still have jobs in law enforcement. Two such cases are pending.

One officer facing decertification was fired last year for a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old girl, which is legal in Iowa but violated department policies. He was soon rehired by another department.

Bradshaw said the process can move slowly for several reasons. The council waits until the conclusion of criminal proceedings and has to gather court records and internal affairs documents, she said.

Bradshaw said she has implemented a new tracking system for cases.

“Hopefully, you’re not going to see the lag between council action and the accusation of misconduct gapped out so far,” she said.

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