Staff Columnist

'Iowa City Police Log': An amusing and enraging view of law enforcement in Iowa

911 calls expose prejudice, inequality and failures of our community support networks, as featured in a new book

The former Iowa City Police Substation in Iowa City.  (Kenny Knutson/ SourceMedia Group News)
The former Iowa City Police Substation in Iowa City. (Kenny Knutson/ SourceMedia Group News)

Iowans rely too much on police to solve our petty problems. The proof now comes in book form.

“The Iowa City Police Log: Life and Strife in a Midwestern College Town,” is scheduled to be published next month. The 200-page coffee table book includes 10,000 real entries from the Iowa City police activity log, described as “often ridiculous, sometimes enraging, occasionally touching, always entirely unique.”

The book was curated by Iowa City man Christopher Patton, with publication assistance from Little Village publisher Matthew Steele and art director Jordan Sellergren. Preorders are available from LittleVillageMag.com. Profits will be donated to the Neighborhood Centers of Johnson County, Shelter House and United Action for Youth.

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For many years, the Iowa City Police Department has posted its daily activity log online. From 2013 to 2018, Patton read every entry in the activity log, and pasted the ones he found interesting on Facebook and Twitter pages. The posts regularly garner hundreds of shares and interactions.

With more than 20,000 followers, the Iowa City Police Log Facebook page is about twice as popular as the actual Iowa City Police Department Facebook page.

On its face, the archive of police calls is amusing. Many are quirky snapshots of Iowa City life, which retain the style and abbreviations police dispatchers write in their reports.

Predictably, there are many complaints about the college town’s party scene:

• “People smoking pot, peeing off the balconies, yelling, jumping around etc.”

• “Party for 2 days straight”

Animal control calls also are prevalent:

• “Found a kitten who is very cold. Kitten in custody and cooperative.”

• “Female subject picked up deer she hit on road and put in back seat and deer still is alive.”

While the Iowa City Police Log is known as a funny Facebook page, the intention of the project is not humor. It uses police calls to expose prejudice, inequality and failures of our community support networks.

The collection includes many calls that appear to be from people suffering from a mental health episode or bad drug trip:

• “Subj left a message ... that she felt in fear for her life and if she came up missing, the Catholic Church is to blame.”

• “About orange juice that he bought at CVS today. Thinks something was put in the orange juice to make him mad.”

Transients, panhandlers and other poor people are regular targets of citizen complaints:

• “RP states that there has been a man in a wheelchair begging for money at the farmers market, thinks that he shouldn’t be there because he is probably on welfare too, subj right at the entrance, RP did not want to leave her name or number because she thought people would think she was mean.”

Frequently, people call police to report young Black men doing very normal, noncriminal things:

• “9 blk males in the area — RP thinks they are up to something.”

• “Large group of subj walking in the street, RP is worried something might be going on ... all Black subj.”

If there is a butt to the joke, it’s certainly not the alleged lawbreakers, nor the busybodies making frivolous calls, nor even the police. The subject to be ridiculed is the community at large, all of us who sustain the community’s overreliance on law enforcement through our inability to meaningfully address the problems we send cops to handle for us.

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“People are bigger tattle tales and less mature than I had hoped. I think it’s really striking the number of people who treat the police as if they’re elementary school teachers or a parent — calling police to resolve issues that adults should be able to resolve themselves,” Patton told me.

Patton’s book puts crucial messages about society and law enforcement into an ostensibly entertaining package. In that, “The Iowa City Police Log: Life and Strife in a Midwestern College Town” has an opportunity to reach people who would not otherwise be engaged in the vital discourse over over-policing. It hoists a mirror in front of our community, and the reflection is rarely flattering.

And for the record, this entry is not about me: “His friend Adam is high from smoking marijuana and keeps passing out.”

adam.sullivan@thegazette.com; (319) 339-3156

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