Guest Columnist

City Council is committed to a safe and equitable community for all

Protestors gather in the street outside of Cedar Rapids Mayor Brad Hart's home during a rally organized by Advocates for
Protestors gather in the street outside of Cedar Rapids Mayor Brad Hart’s home during a rally organized by Advocates for Social Justice in Cedar Rapids on Friday, July 3, 2020. The group marched to the home of Cedar Rapids mayor Brad Hart in the hope of meeting with him to discuss the citizens’ police review board. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

We would like to begin by thanking the community for your commitment to addressing issues to make Cedar Rapids a more safe and equitable city. Cedar Rapids is a wonderful place full of passionate and caring people. Like you, we have watched instances of police brutality in our country, and we feel the same rage. The conversations around racial inequities that have been happening in our country and around the world are long overdue and critically important.

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The Cedar Rapids City Council is committed to working with residents to make significant and sustainable change here in Cedar Rapids. There is nothing adversarial about our commitment to support this cause. We all have the same goals, which is evidenced by the resolution signed unanimously on Juneteenth (June 19) supporting all seven demands of the Black Lives Matter movement championed by the Advocates for Social Justice.

We thank them for their efforts. We will work diligently to achieve these shared goals.

Already, much has been accomplished.

The Cedar Rapids Police Department policy bans chokeholds and knee-to-neck holds. The department also requires de-escalation training to avoid physical confrontation.

The city has made, and will continue to increase, investments in diversity, equity and inclusion. These include: implicit bias training; hundreds of thousands of dollars to implement the Safe and Equitable Task Force recommendations; hiring an additional mental health liaison that works with police officers in the field to divert people from the correctional system and make sure they get the treatment they need; and establishing a Crisis Intervention Team with specialized training to follow up after the initial call for emergency assistance.

All Cedar Rapids police officers wear body cameras. The cameras turn on automatically when an officer activates a cruiser’s emergency lights. Officers are also required to manually turn on their camera when interacting with the public in situations where the camera is not automatically activated. Body camera footage is stored for three years. The Cedar Rapids body camera policy has been reviewed by the ACLU and U.S. Department of Justice, earning an almost perfect score.

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The Cedar Rapids city manager, city attorney, police chief and others currently are researching the city’s authority regarding enforcement of minor marijuana crimes, transparency of bargaining between law enforcement and municipal representatives, and abolishing qualified immunity.

The June 19 resolution requires conclusions to be presented to the City Council within two months, so we expect to learn more about how to best address these priorities in August.

The police department has worked beyond the community requests, including the police chief making department policy clear that an officer has a duty to intervene if they observe another officer acting unlawfully. We are proud of our police department, as one of only 5 percent of police departments in the country that has gone through the rigorous process to be CALEA accredited. This means CRPD meets or exceeds the highest national standards in law enforcement.

Chief Wayne Jerman and the department handle themselves with professionalism and compassion. On a daily basis they deal with issues of gun violence and increased calls for service. They are always looking for opportunities and new ideas to engage with the community and improve on their service in order to gain the trust of residents and keep the community safe.

In June, we committed to creating an independent Citizen Review Board to further community relations and police accountability. The Citizen Review Board is a critical priority for the city, and we plan to move quickly. Important research to learn best practices from around the country has already begun. We hope everyone in Cedar Rapids will play a role in providing input and research as we look at best practices for Citizen Review Boards, and develop one for Cedar Rapids that will be effective and reflect the unique needs of our community.

Residents can provide their ideas through a form on our website at cedar-rapids.org/CRB. There also will be a number of other public engagement activities, including a community survey, focus groups with diverse participants, and discussion and input from stakeholders. We have used this process successfully for many large initiatives, including flood control, the comprehensive plan, neighborhood programs and more. This plan ensures every resident will have the opportunity to provide input, including members of the Advocates for Social Justice. No one should be left out of the process. The 90-day action plan will include regular updates provided at public meetings to ensure citizens are fully aware and engaged in the process.

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We want the research, voices and experiences of our residents. We invite and encourage all citizens to help shape a Citizen Review Board that will work for everyone in our community.

This is a shared goal, and we are confident we will reach that goal by working together.

Mayor Brad Hart, at-large council members Tyler Olson, Ann Poe and Patrick Loeffler and members representing District 1 Marty Hoeger, District 2 Scott Overland, District 3 Dale Todd, District 4 Scott Olson and District 5 Ashley Vanorny.

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We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.