Advocates for Social Justice outline 11 recommendations for a citizens review board in Cedar Rapids

Protesters in Cedar Rapids marched on July 18, 2020. — Izabela Zaluska/Little Village

The Advocates for Social Justice (ASJ) have published their research and recommendations for what a citizens review board should look like in Cedar Rapids and what should be kept in mind as it’s being established.

The 18-page “Citizens Review Board Research Brief” discusses ASJ’s 11 recommendations, as well as how race needs to be “at the center” of discussions about design. The recommendations have been endorsed by more than 20 individuals, including criminal justice activist Phillip Agnew, social psychologist Evelyn Carter and Iowa activist and organizer Misty Rebik.

Creating a citizens review board is one of the group’s seven demands. The demands were first presented at a protest in Greene Square Park on June 6 following the killing of George Floyd. ASJ calls for a citizens review board “in order to ensure that people of color … have an independent body to go to with complaints, whom they can trust will provide a fair and insightful review of the actions and the complaints,” according to the report.

ASJ offered a definition for a citizens review board:

“A CRB is a formal entity comprising community members, which serves as an independent authority to monitor local policing. This includes investigating alleged officer misconduct, reviewing where excessive and lethal force has been used by an officer and instances when an officer’s firearm was discharged, and systemic disparities, such as racial profiling in traffic stops.”

The seven demands organizers and community members want city and police leaders to respond to. — courtesy of Advocates for Social Justice Facebook page

Police Chief Wayne Jerman and Mayor Brad Hart announced on June 12 the city is working on establishing a review board. A week later, the Cedar Rapids City Council unanimously backed the seven demands during a special meeting on June 19.

At first, the city had plans for a task force to provide input and research for a citizens review board, which was discussed during a contentious June 26 meeting between ASJ and Cedar Rapids officials. Now the process is going to be open to the public.

Hart wrote in an email earlier this month that Cedar Rapids officials “do not plan to be part of any additional negotiation meetings” with ASJ. Hart told Little Village that the intent of the meetings was to understand the demands and share information. He added that the city “didn’t halt or call off negotiations.”

Following the group’s protest on July 18, Hart told Little Village that city staff will reach out directly to ASJ, in addition to doing their own research and gathering information to develop a citizens review board that will work for Cedar Rapids. According to ASJ, members of the group will meet with city staff Tuesday morning.

The Cedar Rapids City Council’s Tuesday afternoon meeting will include more information about the city’s public engagement process for creating a citizens review board.

Some of the chalked messages on Cedar Rapids City Hall, July 18, 2020. — Izabela Zaluska/Little Village

ASJ’s report was prepared by Circe Sumbo, Anne Harris Carter, ASJ co-founder Tamara Marcus and Linn County Supervisor Stacey Walker. Other ASJ members also contributed to the report, which was made public on July 27.

The group calls for race to be at the “center of deliberations about design” because the call for a citizens review board is “part of a broader agenda to achieve racial justice in Cedar Rapids.”

Creating a citizens review board in Cedar Rapids was brought up after former Cedar Rapids police officer Lucas Jones shot and paralyzed Jerime Mitchell during a November 2016 traffic stop. (Jones was fired by CRPD in June for conduct related to a traffic stop in October 2016 and is appealing his termination.)

The report also brings up racial disparities in Iowa and Linn County, including how Black people make up 4 percent of Iowa’s population but 25 percent of the state’s prison population. Black people in Linn County are nearly 10 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than someone who is white.

“No matter what the formal structure ultimately looks like, attending to issues of race and justice in the design process is vital if the CRB is to be set up to address race and racial injustice in the exercise of its charge, which is the reasoning behind the call for a Cedar Rapids CRB in the first place,” the report’s authors wrote.

ASJ co-founder Tamara Marcus and Linn County Supervisor Stacey Walker speak during the panel discussion organized by ASJ on July 18, 2020. — Izabela Zaluska/Little Village

ASJ has 11 main recommendations for a citizens review board in Cedar Rapids, including giving the board authority to reprimand officers, initiate investigations and hire/fire the chief of police. The report also includes an explanation for each recommendation.

• The Board shall retain the authority to issue formal reprimands with legal standing for officer misconduct.

• This Board shall retain the authority to issue reports and recommendations to local law enforcement agencies and their governing bodies, and develop a rating system that would independently assess and recommend changes in police policies and practices, and review other relevant metrics.

• The Citizens Review Board shall be empowered to initiate other investigations and reviews at its sole discretion and have unfettered access to relevant documents. The investigations completed by the CRB will be made public.

• This Board shall receive and review public quarterly reports of police stops and arrests with breakdowns of the attending demographic information including stops and arrests by race and ethnicity. These reports shall be given by the Chief of Police.

• This Board retains the authority to delegate investigatory and review functions to other organizations as needed.

• The results of completed internal investigations for officer misconduct or use of force cases performed by the Cedar Rapids Police Department shall be turned over to the Board in a timely manner throughout the course of the Board’s investigations and inquiries.

• Include “when an officer draws their firearm on a subject or uses their firearm during precautionary positioning maneuvers,” as a definition of Use of Force which would make this action subject to review and/or investigation by the Board.

• The membership of the Board shall be diverse and gender-balanced.

• Membership of the Board shall be specified in by-laws.

• The Board shall have resources to support their investigations.

• The CRB shall have the authority to hire/fire the chief of police

People in Cedar Rapids rallied against systemic racism and oppression on Friday, July 3. — Michael Schodin/Little Village

The report also outlines what membership on the board should look like. ASJ recommends the citizens review board have 11 members, with at least half of the members being people of color. There should also be at least one attorney on the board.

All board members must be residents of Cedar Rapids. ASJ recommends members serve staggered three-year terms with a two-term max. Initial board members will serve at least two years.

For new members, ASJ recommends that current board members nominate nine individuals. The mayor will nominate two members and city council will confirm all nominated members.

“Our team has been working non-stop to get these recommendations ready for the people of Cedar Rapids,” ASJ member and attorney Amara Andrews said in a news release. “Given the level of research we have done and feedback we have received from national experts, we believe our recommendations are robust enough to start addressing some of the systemic issues within our police department.”

The full report can be accessed online.

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