Iowa City Working to Improve Relations Between Police and Minorities

[Source: “Critics: Iowa City missing crucial opportunity,” Press Citizen, 18 June 2013]

Critics: Iowa City missing crucial opportunity

Council OKs plans aimed to improve minorities-police relationships; city to review regularly, track progress

City administrators are making small changes aimed at improving relations between police and minorities but not the major overhaul that’s necessary, some critics say.

The Iowa City Council on Tuesday night accepted a slew of recommendations from city staff, based on recommendations from the Ad Hoc Diversity Committee. The temporary committee was created by the council last year with the charge of exploring issues faced by minority residents in Iowa City, especially interactions with transit service and the Iowa City Police Department.

Council member Jim Throgmorton said the recommendations focused too heavily on efforts already in place, rather than changes that could be made.

“What I read is basically text that said, ‘We will continue what we’ve been doing.’ … I believe we should be seeing a much more active indication of what the department will change, not what it will continue doing,” Throgmorton said.

The law enforcement recommendations in the staff’s report largely deal with outreach. Police will engage in more community projects, invite more citizens on ride-alongs, and even explore a training academy for youth.

Joe Coulter, one of the members of the now-defunct Ad Hoc Diversity Committee, praised the recommendations in part, but also agreed with Throgmorton’s critique.

“There’s a need to emphasize what’s going to change. ‘Continue this, continue that’ — that doesn’t get it,” Coulter said, adding that the city ought to set measurable goals pertaining to diversity issues.

Others defended the recommendations against that criticism.

Council member Susan Mims said she sees the report from city staff as a starting point. She called on her colleagues to keep the issues on the council’s radar in coming months and years.

“I see this as a very positive first step, but only a first step in something that, as a council, we need to keep our eyes on in an ongoing way if we’re really going to improve our community in reality and in perception as well,” Mims said.

City Manager Tom Markus emphasized that administrators will revisit the recommendations on a regular basis and keep the council posted on progress.

“As we implement different improvements associated with the Ad Hoc Committee recommendations, we will be amending the actual reporting document on our website so that people can track what we’re doing,” Markus said.

A handful of community members addressed the council on Tuesday night about the recommendations. All of them called for more action, some pointing to the police department’s disproportionate contact with minorities.

“My take on it was that the Ad Hoc Committee was calling for a pretty significant change in culture in the police department,” said Dorothy Whiston, a member of the Coalition for Racial Justice. “I didn’t see that urgency and the real shift in direction that I think they were asking for.”

Mayor Matt Hayek admitted the plans will need to be changed or beefed up in the future, but defended the police department.

“We have a police department that is marked by a high degree of professionalism,” Hayek said. “They operate under a lot of scrutiny. They’re expected to keep us safe and solve crimes and do all of those things, and they’re expected to do so and engage the community with sensitivity and tact and distinction. I think our department does those things.”

LaTasha Massey, a member of the Ad Hoc Diversity Committee, said without bigger changes, the city is missing an opportunity to make meaningful change.

“If we miss this opportunity, it will be another one of those policies or procedures that had a chance to make it right and we missed it. I really would encourage you to really, really look at what we wrote,” Massey said.

Cameras, drones

Also Tuesday, the council approved the final reading of an ordinance to ban automated surveillance devices.

The measure approved by the council bans the use of automated traffic cameras, license-plate readers and drones. Only a handful of other municipalities in the country have such a restriction in place.

However, council members are not necessarily supportive of the ban, which came about after activists gathered more than 2,000 signatures calling for the ban.

Some leaders say they want to pursue red-light cameras, but they’ll wait until state regulations on the devices are clear.

The ordinance approved Tuesday night has to stay in place for two years before it can be repealed.

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Categories: Justice Reform, News Coverage

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