Staff Editorial

Change can't wait: Police review board is an urgent need in Cedar Rapids

The way city governments usually operate - characterized by many months of committees, subcommittees, listening posts and staff reports - is insufficient for this historic moment.

Protestors march down Third Avenue SE in Cedar Rapids on Saturday, June 6, 2020. Thousands gathered for the event, which
Protestors march down Third Avenue SE in Cedar Rapids on Saturday, June 6, 2020. Thousands gathered for the event, which began at Greene Square before a march through downtown Cedar Rapids, to protest racism, police brutality and the death of Minneapolis man George Floyd. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

Amid mass protests in support of law enforcement reform and racial equity, the Cedar Rapids City Council last month approved a resolution committing to making changes to the city’s police policies. A key piece of their plan is the creation of a citizens’ review board of police, which would review processes, practices and grievances.

City leaders are negotiating with racial justice activists, led by the local group Advocates for Social Justice. A meeting last week turned tense over disagreements about how the review board will be developed.

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At the meeting, representatives for the city favored instituting a task force to develop and recommend plans for a review board. Advocates for Social Justice leaders opposed the task force plan, quibbling with the body’s potential membership and arguing that it would prolong the process.

The city later pivoted away from creating a task force, and sent out a notice this week to solicit community input on establishing a citizen review board. Mayor Brad Hart set a deadline of 90 days for creating the board.

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Too often, local government task forces are where good ideas go to be held up or watered down. City officials were wise to set a specific deadline and move forward without creating some new entity.

The city should swiftly move forward, but everyone involved should recognize the work won’t be done once the Cedar Rapids Citizen Review Board is officially formed.

Iowa City’s Community Police Review Board has been in place for more than 20 years, but justice advocates complain it has insufficient power to gather evidence and enact discipline. In a wide-ranging police reform resolution passed last month, the Iowa City Council directed the board to recommend its own ordinance changes to make the board more effective. Cedar Rapids should consider the same, seeking the board’s input once it’s formed.

The way city governments usually operate — characterized by many months of committees, subcommittees, listening posts and staff reports — is insufficient for this historic moment. We can uphold our core practices of transparency and community input while still moving more quickly than we do when we vet a new restaurant development.

People are dying, and the survivors and next victims are tired of waiting for real change.

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

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