Public Safety

Marion police update policies after George Floyd's death

First Black Lives Matter protest scheduled in Marion on Saturday; organizers hope to bring 7 police reform demands to council

Marion Police Department SUV. (Photo from MPD Facebook page)
Marion Police Department SUV. (Photo from MPD Facebook page)
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MARION — Marion Police Chief Mike Kitsmiller added language to the department’s policy about use of force, de-escalation and banning chokeholds in response to the death of George Floyd, a black man who was killed by a police officer in Minneapolis, sparking Black Lives Matter protests across the country.

Kitsmiller introduced policy changes for the Marion Police Department during a city council work session Tuesday, and discussed use of force statistics for the last five years.

“I’m very proud of the men and women of the Marion Police Department, and I think the data shows we do things right, and treat people professionally and with dignity,” Kitsmiller said, who joined the department in September 2019.

Some changes to the policy include officers only using force necessary to overcome the resistance they encounter and officers use de-escalation tactics to stabilize a situation and reduce the immediacy of a threat.

Kitsmiller said Marion officers are trained in de-escalation, but it has not been put into any formal policy.

Chokeholds, which were never taught to Marion officers, are now prohibited by policy “unless deadly force is warranted and necessary,” Kitsmiller said.

“We don’t teach people to gouge eyes, but if someone is grabbing for your gun, we do what we need to do. It’s a last resort type of situation,” Kitsmiller said.

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A new policy also requires officers to intervene if they see another officer using excessive use of force.

Once a person has had force used on them and is properly restrained, they should be helped into an upright seat or standing position, Kitsmiller said.

“That’s standard practice, but it needed to be put (into policy) given what happened to Mr. Floyd,” Kitsmiller said.

Kitmiller said he is “not necessarily for” a citizen review board, but would consider one if the community asked.

“I want to be transparent, but I want to be fair to the officers as well,” Kitsmiller said.

From 2015 to present, the Marion Police Department responded to 143,336 calls for service. Of those calls, 7,612 resulted in an arrest, 20,416 were tickets and 22,568 were warnings.

Officers used force in 101 of those calls involving 121 people. Eighty-five percent were men, 15 percent were women and 16 percent were black, Kitsmiller said.

Forty-eight of those calls involved an officer drawing a weapon, 37 involved “strikes, takedowns or restraints” by officers, and 16 people were teased, Kitsmiller said.

Fourteen people were injured and officers were injured four times.

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Kitsmiller said officers have had four complaints of excessive force, two of which were unfounded based on body camera footage and two were found to be reasonable, he said.

Kitsmiller said he was “pretty proud of that.”

“I was impressed with the department when I got here,” he said. “What happened in Minnesota was wrong. It’s a crime, and I think those officers should go to jail.”

Earlier this year, the department began conversations with Foundation 2, a nonprofit that provides mental health services in Cedar Rapids, to employ their mobile crisis services to assist police officers on mental health and drug-related calls, Kitsmiller said.

“I think it would relieve our staff and is a better service to the community,” Kitsmiller said.

Kitsmiller said he would present a cost estimate to the city council at a later date.

Mayor Nick AbouAssally thanked the police chief for being proactive.

City council member Steve Jensen said the changes being made in the department are “absolutely appropriate based on what’s happening.”

“The Marion police force has been looked upon as one of the toughest ones around,” Jensen said. “Based on citizen surveys, it’s also an expectation that safety is one of the top things they are looking for in this community.”

A Black Lives Matter protest is being organized in Marion Saturday, June 20. Protesters will start at Marion Square Park, 1107 Seventh Ave., at 6 p.m.

Zakayra Stokes, of Cedar Rapids, who is one of the event organizers, said she wants people of color to feel safe in Marion.

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“We’re not trying to break down the police force. We just want them to be fair. They’re supposed to protect and serve,” Stokes said.

Stokes said they are planning on making the seven police reform demands the Advocates of Social Justice are making to the City of Cedar Rapids. Demands include forming an independent citizen’s review board, making investments in diversity, equity and inclusion, banning chokeholds and abolishing qualified immunity.

Comments: (319) 398-8411; grace.king@thegazette.com

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