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Sioux City officials hold listening sessions for community needs

A Sioux City Police Department vehicle sits outside the Sioux City Art Center.
Sioux City Police Department
The Sioux City Police Department listened to residents share their questions and concerns about community-police relationships.

Sioux City residents met on Wednesday to discuss how to strengthen community connections to police.

At the Sioux City Public Museum, community members had the opportunity to share their experiences with the Sioux City Police Department — both positive and negative.

“The reason the police came today is because they wanted to be criticized. They wanted to get feedback. They wanted to hear the good, the bad, the all of it,” said Semehar Ghebrekidan, the city’s community inclusion liaison who led the listening session. “Because we are public servants. We work for our community.”

The listening session is a part of a larger ongoing effort to allow residents to give feedback to major city departments, dubbed the “Community Speak Out” series. At each session, any Sioux City resident is invited to share their concerns on specific topics like diversity, police and finance.

The community engagement initiative comes after the city’s creation of the Inclusive Advisory Committee last fall. In response to the murder of George Floyd last summer, the city formed the committee with the goal of strengthening relationships between diverse communities and the all-white city council.

“There’s a lot of people out there that maybe withdrew. And so we need to reach out to them and bring them back in and build trust with them.”
Sioux City Police Chief Rex Mueller

Ghebrekidan serves on that committee. She said she uses community listening sessions as a tool to learn what issues are most important to the city’s residents — and often to find gaps in service.

“To know that a simple thing could have been fixed to have international students feel more connected or to have people who don’t speak English feel like they understand the laws here,” Ghebrekidan said. “These are important things that can really disrupt some people’s lives.”

At the session, residents shared their personal interactions with police, asked questions and gave suggestions on how police can build stronger connections with the community.

Sioux City chief of police Rex Mueller took notes on the community’s feedback for his department. He said he believed it was vital to build bridges to the community, especially as community attitudes toward police have shifted nationally.

“There’s a lot of people out there that maybe withdrew. And so we need to reach out to them and bring them back in and build trust with them,” he said. “It’s an ongoing project. If a police department says ‘Oh we got it figured out’, they’re wrong.”

President of the Sioux City chapter of the NAACP Ike Rayford said he believed the Sioux City Police Department worked hard to understand the fears of communities of color. He shared his own experience being pulled over for speeding.

“Immediately as a Black male, I just had a fear ‘I don’t want to lose my life over speeding,” Rayford said. “[The police officer] could see the fear that I had... I’m thankful that we do have officers, especially here in Iowa, that have the empathy and are able to see that they are able to change the situation and the narrative.”

The public will continue to have the opportunity to share their feedback on each city department in the coming months. Next month, the police department will hold a follow-up session to answer questions and respond to concerns posed during the session.

Mueller said he looks forward to sharing the department’s community-driven initiatives.

“The better community-police relationships are, the better we can tackle crime.”

Kendall was Iowa Public Radio’s western Iowa reporter based in Sioux City, IA until Jan. 20, 2023.