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Cedar Rapids City Council Votes To Create Police Review Board

Kate Payne
IPR file
Activists march through a Cedar Rapids neighborhood last summer on the way to the home of Mayor Brad Hart, as part of an effort to protest racial injustice and police brutality in the wake of the killing of George Floyd.

The Cedar Rapids City Council gave final approval Tuesday for the creation of a citizen review board, establishing an independent panel meant to monitor police misconduct, increase accountability and expand public outreach. The move has been a top priority for local racial justice activists in the wake of last summer’s wave of protests against systemic racism and police brutality.

City council members unanimously approved the ordinance, establishing a board that will be charged with reviewing complaints of officer misconduct, helping track demographic trends in policing actions such as arrests and traffic stops, and expanding public outreach by connecting the Cedar Rapids Police Department and the community. Members of the board will also sit on future hiring committees for police chiefs.

The establishment of the CRB follows months of organizing by the local racial justice group Advocates for Social Justice. Leaders of the group were among those who organized rallies last summer in the wake of the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. During the protests, thousands of Cedar Rapids residents marched through the streets calling for justice and an end to systemic racism, as well as policy changes at the local level.

Members of ASJ worked closely with city staff and with representatives of the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement, or NACOLE, in developing the ordinance, which city leaders said they hope can be a “model” for other communities.

“Forming a citizen review board is really a progressive step that will, I’m confident, help build even more trust in our police department. And that will help prevent and solve crimes,” Mayor Brad Hart said during a Jan. 26 meeting of the council. “It will be a model for other communities.”

According to Community Development Director Jennifer Pratt, the creation of the independent panel follows more than 20 weekly meetings between city staff and representatives for ASJ, as well as a public engagement campaign that helped shape the ordinance.

Speaking to city council members last month, ASJ representative Anne Harris Carter called the creation of the CRB a “milestone."

“I can confidently say on behalf of ASJ that we have developed the strongest CRB in the state. I can also say with confidence that we know much work remains. And we welcome constructive feedback from the community,” she said.

Carter acknowledged the CRB may be controversial in the eyes of both advocates and critics.

“I am optimistic even though I know there are many hurdles ahead,” she added. “I am optimistic even though I know there are those in this community who think this ordinance does not go far enough. I am optimistic even though I know there are those in this community that doubt the existence of systemic racism.”

The board will be made up of nine community members, at least five of whom must identify as people of color. The panel must also include a licensed attorney, members representing racial justice organizations like the NAACP or LULAC, and members representing service providers that work with underrepresented individuals such as the United Way or NAMI.

As part of their conditions of serving, members will be required to complete an initial 30 hour training course, plus as additional 10 hours of training each year, as well as accompany an on-duty police officer for a minimum of 16 hours each year.

The city plans to accept applications from March through May, with the goal of seating the board by June. Members will be appointed by the mayor with input and approval from the City Council.

Kate Payne was an Iowa City-based Reporter