Public Safety

Iowa City's new outreach officer strives to build relationships between police, community

Travis Neeld sees role as chance to make a difference on bigger scale

Travis Neeld, seen with K-9 partner Luke, is the Iowa City Police Department's new community relations outreach officer.
Travis Neeld, seen with K-9 partner Luke, is the Iowa City Police Department’s new community relations outreach officer. “Working patrol, I was doing a lot of what I’m doing now and building relationships within the community,” he said. “This just affords me an opportunity to do it on a much larger scale.” (Submitted photo)

IOWA CITY — Iowa City police officer Travis Neeld has always wanted to make an impact with his work.

“I always thought the guys making a difference in the community were the guys out there making the drug arrests, making the gun arrests and taking gang members off the street,” Neeld said.

But Neeld, 36, said as his career has progressed over the past 11 years, he has seen the different ways police can make a difference. He’s now positioned to make the biggest impact of his career as he takes over as the department’s community relations outreach officer. In that role, Neeld will be part of a team that aims to foster relationships with different segments of the community.

“Working patrol, I was doing a lot of what I’m doing now and building relationships within the community,” he said. “This just affords me an opportunity to do it on a much larger scale, and it affords me the opportunity to get a different and bigger audience.”

Raised in Eliza, Ill., Neeld said his interest in law enforcement began at an early age. His father served as a volunteer firefighter and reserve auxiliary deputy with the Mercer County Sheriff’s Office.

“I always had positive interactions with law enforcement,” he said. “I always knew the police officers ... It was just something I thought would be a good place for me to fit in.”

After graduating from Culver-Stockton College in Canton, Mo., and living in Rochester, Minn., Neeld moved to the Iowa City area so his wife could work at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics as a nurse. He joined the Iowa City Police Department in April 2006.

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Neeld said he likes the size of Iowa City and its police department, where he feels like more than “just a number.”

“We’re big enough that we do lots of different things, we have multiple different special assignments and multiple different functions that smaller police departments don’t have,” he said. “But, we’re small enough to still have a community-based feel, and you can actually make a difference here.”

After working in directed patrol assignments aimed at tackling gang violence and gun-related crimes, Neeld was encouraged to apply to be a K-9 officer. He partnered with his German shepherd, Luke, in 2013.

“I have absolutely loved it,” Neeld said.

During their time together, Luke and Neeld have seized guns and drugs and made apprehensions. In one case, Luke tracked an armed robbery suspect through two backyards, down a street, over two fences and into a garage.

“It’s been fun,” Neeld said. “It’s always something different, too. The more work you put in with the dog, the more you get out of him.”

While he’s still working with Luke, Neeld said he was ready for a new challenge and applied to be the community relations outreach officer, which rotates officers every three years. He replaces Ashten Hayes. Neeld said he’ll be part of an outreach team with neighborhood response officer Adam Schmerbach and community outreach assistant Daisy Torres.

“Daisy and I have really focused on trying to network and work into communities that are either disenfranchised, underserved or marginalized,” he said.

Already, Neeld and Torres are working on two large initiatives. The first, Project Blue Able, is an initiative designed to remove barriers between police and individuals with intellectual disabilities, autism, and speech and language impairments. They are working with Access 2 Independence to host forums from 3 to 5 p.m. Feb. 27 at Mercer Aquatic Center and 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. March 4 at the Iowa City Public Library.

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“We want members of the community ... to come out and tell us what challenges and what information law enforcement needs to know and give us some insight on how we can better serve the community and how we can work together,” Neeld said.

The second initiative involves working with Iowa City’s immigrant and refugee community to explain the roles of different emergency response agencies and help inform people on what happens when they call 911 or are pulled over by a police officer. A forum, Community Awareness for Refugees and Immigrants, will take place from 3 to 5 p.m. April 11 at the Mercer Aquatic Center.

“We want to try to dispel misinformation,” Neeld said. “We want to try to be as transparent as possible and provide better information.”

Neeld said he hopes to build on the anticipated successes of these early initiatives to continue to foster better relationships between the community and the police department.

“I want to make sure we take what we do there, try to enhance it and try to make Iowa City a more inclusive and better place,” he said.

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

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