Public Safety

Survey: Most Cedar Rapids residents back plans to form citizens' police review board

More than 2,200 responded to survey; City Council to hear recommendations Oct. 20

Louise Mitchell, Jerime Mitchell's mother, talks about her son while holding a photo of him at a demonstration in suppor
Louise Mitchell, Jerime Mitchell's mother, talks about her son while holding a photo of him at a demonstration in support of policing and justice reform at Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church in Cedar Rapids on Saturday, Feb. 4, 2017. The group presented twelve points that they intend to pursue in an effort to make investigations of officer-involved shootings more transparent. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — More than half of Cedar Rapids residents who responded to a city survey seeking input on the formation of a citizens’ police review board said they would back the City Council’s move to form one.

City staff on Oct. 20 will unveil recommendations outlining the potential structure for a review board charged with providing oversight of local law enforcement, signaling the council is coming closer to meeting the most prominent of the Advocates for Social Justice’s seven demands for police reform.

In a Tuesday presentation to the City Council, Community Development Director Jennifer Pratt said the common goals of varying structures of review boards include improving public trust, ensuring accessible complaint processes, promoting fair and thorough investigations, increasing transparency and deterring police misconduct.

Citizen review boards might investigate allegations of police misconduct and recommend findings to the chief or sheriff. In other models, police might investigate allegations and develop findings for citizens to review. The citizens would recommend that the chief or sheriff approve or reject them.

In some cities, complainants may appeal findings established by the police or sheriff’s department to citizens, who review them and then recommend their own findings. And in other cities, an auditor examines the process by which the police or sheriff’s department accepts and investigates complaints and reports on the thoroughness and fairness of the process to the public.

“The end goal is things that people can agree upon, so all we’re trying to do is find the right mix for that board to make sure that those are the goals that we can achieve in our community,” Pratt said.

More than 2,200 residents — a little under 2 percent of the city’s population — responded to the city’s survey from Aug. 6 to Sept. 30 to gather input on residents’ visions for the review board’s structure.

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Respondents’ racial demographics were reflective of the city population, Community Development Assistant Director Bill Micheel said.

“We are focused on trying to amplify voices of people of color through this process, so we’re finding additional ways to do that,” Micheel said.

Community Development staffers are working with board members from the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement this week to hold 10 focus groups diving deeper into conversations with residents about their views on policing.

The association and the Advocates for Social Justice worked with the city to develop questions guiding the conversations, Micheel said. These questions cover residents’ thoughts on the impact of a review board on the community and law enforcement, their interactions with law enforcement, the varying models of review boards, desired outcomes and membership of the review panel.

“We’re having great success getting people’s opinions through that process,” Micheel said.

According to the survey results, 65 percent of respondents said their interactions with Cedar Rapids police were either positive or very positive, while only 6 percent reported negative or very negative interactions.

The share of white residents who reported positive or very positive interactions with the police was about 60 percent, which was higher than Black or Latino residents.

More than 10 percent of Black residents reported negative or very negative interactions with the Cedar Rapids police compared with less than 10 percent of white residents.

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The council may vote on a resolution outlining the structure of the review board at the Oct. 20 meeting, Pratt said. That resolution would direct staff to create an ordinance for the council to approve at a later date, allowing for multiple discussions among the council as its members consider how to proceed to form a review board.

Comments: (319) 398-8494; marissa.payne@thegazette.com

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