Cedar Rapidians invited to weigh in on police oversight work through online ‘idea wall’

A Cedar Rapids Police officer stands amid Trump supporters during a campaign rally, Friday, Oct. 28, 2016. — Zak Neumann/Little Village

In response to public demands for more oversight of the police department, the Cedar Rapids City Council voted in February 2021 to create the Citizen Review Board (CRB), which held its first meeting in July last year. Now the CRB has launched a two-month effort to get more public input about its work.

“Residents can share feedback on an interactive, public ‘Idea Wall,’” the board said in a news release. “Questions on the virtual wall will rotate every two weeks throughout the months of April and May. Community members can leave their thoughts and see comments as they are shared.”

The Idea Wall on April 7, 2022

The first question to be posted is: “One of the duties of the Citizen Review Board is to review policies and procedures of the Cedar Rapids Police Department and make recommendations. As the CRB makes recommendations to the CRPD, what is the best way to share that with the public?”

Early responses to the question range from “Social media” and “News Outlets” to “Text a link, post a notice in the library and grocery stores” and “Paper report mailed to all residents.”

Cedar Rapids was the third city in Iowa to create a civilian oversight board for its police department. University Heights created its Civilian Review Board in 2019, and Iowa City had a Community Police Review Board since 1997.

Creating an independent citizen review board was one of seven demands for police reform Advocates for Social Justice (ASJ) presented to the city council. The grassroots group emerged as a leading voice for racial justice during the protests in Cedar Rapids following the murder of George Floyd. It first called for “a citizens’ review board to investigate and review instances where excessive force is used by an officer or whenever an officer’s firearm is discharged” during a protest on June 6, 2020. Two weeks later, the Cedar Rapids City Council passed a resolution endorsing ASJ’s seven reforms.

One of the first steps the city took towards the creation of the board was to launch an online survey to gather public input on Aug. 6, 2020. But that survey, along with everything else in Cedar Rapids, was disrupted when the derecho hit the city four days later.

Although the group had some disagreements with then-Mayor Brad Hart and some members of the city council, ASJ worked closely with city staff on the structure of the CRB and to create the ordinance establishing the board.

“I have described this moment to family and friends as a milestone, and I have gone from cautious optimism to optimism,” ASJ’s Anne Harris Carter told the city council during its Jan. 26, 2021 meeting, when the ordinance was first introduced.

“I am optimistic even though I know there are many hurdles ahead. 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. I am optimistic even though I know there are those in this community that doubt the merits of civilian oversight, and at the other end of the spectrum, flat out disagree.”

The first members of the CRB were appointed in June last year, and the board began meeting the following month.

In its news release on Tuesday, the CRB said the feedback from Idea Wall survey questions would help it “[u]nderstand the community’s perspectives regarding the Cedar Rapids Police Department” and “[p]rioritize focus areas for the CRB’s long-term plan.”

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