Cedar Rapids officials this week took a significant step to bolster oversight of the city’s police force.
The Cedar Rapids City Council on Tuesday directed the city manager to draft an ordinance instituting a new citizens’ review board of police, which would vet investigatory reports from the police chief. Council members reviewed a memo from city staff laying out the basic structure and responsibilities of the forthcoming board.
Cedar Rapids’ citizens’ review board would be less powerful than the one activists envisioned at the outset of the planning process. In July, the local group Advocates for Social Justice published a paper calling for much broader authority — to formally reprimand officers, initiate its own investigations, and hire and fire the police chief.
None of that made it into the plan, and some of it might not be allowed under Iowa law. The city favors a review model, which is more restrained than other potential board structures.
As council members repeatedly said this week, this is only the beginning of the city’s police reform endeavors, not the end. While we urge the city to continue exploring ways for stronger citizen control, we applaud them for moving forward on the first iteration of the citizens’ review board.
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Cedar Rapids government officials took up police reform talks at the demand of racial justice protesters responding to the deaths of George Floyd and other Black Americans killed by police.
In June, the council adopted a police reform agenda with the review board as its centerpiece. The resolution also included significant investments in equity programs, strict body camera requirements and decriminalization of marijuana. The council’s action this week is laudable, but it does not solve systemic racism in local government.
In developing a plan for the review board, the city received more than 2,000 survey responses, which mostly favored creating a citizen review board.
Iowa City is the only other community in Iowa with a review board, which is similar to the one proposed for Cedar Rapids. Advocates there also are calling on the city to embolden the Community Police Review Board to take a more active role in overseeing the police department.
We know racial justice and police reform organizers will press Cedar Rapids and Iowa City to beef up their police accountability mechanisms, and we hope city leaders will take heed.
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