Staff Editorial

A call for transparency in policing

Law enforcement officers perform a traffic stop in Iowa City on  Monday, June 8, 2020. (Nick Rohlman/freelance)
Law enforcement officers perform a traffic stop in Iowa City on Monday, June 8, 2020. (Nick Rohlman/freelance)

Iowa should adopt a set of policies to diminish racial bias in policing, according to a committee appointed by the governor.

Officers would be required to collect race and ethnicity data about police stops and the state would adopt a ban on disparate treatment under recent recommendations from the FOCUS Committee on criminal justice reform.

Gov. Kim Reynolds, who created the committee last year, said the recommendations would be a “historic step forward in Iowa’s leadership in civil rights and criminal justice reform.”

At least two cities in Iowa already track and study demographic data from their police traffic stops, and their findings show people of color are more likely to be subject to traffic stops. We commend those communities for being proactive, but a statewide solution is necessary.

Uniform reporting of demographic data from Iowa’s nearly 400 law enforcement agencies will empower police and watchdogs to perform detailed analysis and uncover potential bias. Better data will lead to better community oversight of the police.

Simply requiring officers to collect the data can improve individual behavior, according to Arthur Rizer, an expert from the right-of-center R Street Institute who spoke at a committee meeting this year: “Just collecting the data can be really eye-opening. Many officers have some type of bias and when they are aware of it, many can self-correct.”

Advocates with the NAACP and ACLU in Iowa have pushed for several years to enact such a policy in Iowa. State Rep. Ako Abdul-Samad, D-Des Moines, has been the lead sponsor and champion of the proposal in the Iowa Legislature.

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The bills’ lack of success so far does not necessarily reflect on its prospects for the 2021 legislative session, even though partisan control of the Legislature remains the same.

What’s different this year is that the data collection mandate and racial profiling ban have support from the governor’s own task force, which is led by Lt. Gov. Adam Gregg. Republicans in the Legislature are evolving on law enforcement issues, as evidenced by unanimous support for a package of police reforms passed in June amid racial justice protests in Iowa and nationally.

The FOCUS Committee’s recent recommendations are meant to be its last, but we encourage the governor and legislative leaders to keep the conversation going. The 2021 proposals are much-needed, but will not mark the end of criminal justice reform in Iowa.

(319) 398-8262; editorial@thegazette.com

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