Public Safety

Johnson County law enforcement leaders sign 'Duty to Intercede' memo

Law enforcement leaders gather at University Heights City Hall on Friday, June 19, during a work session. Photo credit:
Law enforcement leaders gather at University Heights City Hall on Friday, June 19, during a work session. Photo credit: University Heights Police Chief Troy Kelsay

Law enforcement officers across Johnson County have committed to intervening in acts of excessive force by fellow officers if they see them.

During a meeting Friday in University Heights attended by law enforcement leaders, Johnson County Attorney Janet Lyness and representatives from the NAACP, FBI, U.S. Attorney’s Office and Iowa Police Chiefs Association, University of Iowa Department of Public Safety Director Scott Beckner introduced a “Duty to Intercede” memorandum of understanding.

It requires law enforcement officers in the county to intercede if they “observe the use of unreasonable force by a law enforcement officer of any agency.”

That use of force also is to be reported to a supervisor. All officers present at the incident could face legal consequences for failure to intervene, according to the agreement that was signed by each of the law enforcement leaders.

University Heights Police Chief Troy Kelsay said the memo addresses the question of whether officers from one agency would feel comfortable intervening in actions taken by an officer from another agency.

“I think it does several things,” Kelsay said. “It empowers them to do it. Then, it gives them the responsibility to do it. ... And even beyond that, you won’t just intervene to make sure it doesn’t continue, you have a duty to report it to your supervisor.”

While the memo pertains only to Johnson County agencies, Kelsay said the “very simple” policy could be implemented at the state level.

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In Linn County, Cedar Rapids Police Chief Wayne Jerman has said the department also has strengthened its policy to make it clear that officers must intervene if they see another officer using excessive force.

The Linn County Sheriff’s Office and Marion Police Department also have similar policies.

“In the intervention policy, I wanted officers to know in writing they’re supposed to intervene,” Marion Police Chief Mike Kitsmiller said at a recent City Council work session. He said officers “have to report it and verbally and physically intervene.”

According to a news release announcing the Johnson County agreement, the law enforcement leaders said they are considering other actions “to achieve transparency, accountability and confidence.” Those actions include:

• Regular meetings between law enforcement and the president of the Iowa City NAACP.

• Adopting citizens’ review boards.

• Expanding implementation of anti-racial profiling ordinances like the one enacted last year in University Heights.

• Immediately reviewing and releasing video related to biased policing.

• Encouraging officers to live in the communities they serve.

• Using the FBI as “investigatory resource” for civil rights complaints and investigations.

Law enforcement leaders also noted that efforts had been implemented earlier in agencies throughout the county. Each local agency trains officers regularly in implicit bias. All local agencies also have policies that ban choke holds.

The Iowa City Police Department was the first in the state to collect demographic data for analysis to address “disparate policing practices.” University Heights worked with the NAACP to develop its ordinance banning racial profiling. The Johnson County Attorney’s Office has created diversion programs for marijuana possession, driving under suspension and driving while barred charges.

Johnson County Sheriff’s Office Det. Sgt. Brad Kunkel, the Democratic nominee for sheriff, said it was “encouraging” to see law enforcement leaders discuss demands of Black Lives Matter movement protesters.

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“I think law enforcement has been hearing that message and listening to it for weeks,” he said.

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

Kat Russell of The Gazette contributed to this report.

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