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Cedar Rapids establishes the second police review board in Iowa

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

The Cedar Rapids City Council gave final approval on Tuesday to the establishment of an independent citizen review board that will oversee the Cedar Rapids Police Department.

The board will be responsible for reviewing police data and policies, implementing a program of community outreach and be part of future police chief candidate selection committees. The board will also oversee a monitoring system for tracking complaints against CRPD officers.

The council’s approval on Feb. 9 comes almost exactly eight months after the Advocates for Social Justice unveiled the demand to establish a citizen review board, along with six other demands, during their June 6 protest. In those eight months, ASJ has organized protests, negotiated with city officials and worked with city staff — in addition to other community work, including voter registration and derecho relief.

The board in Cedar Rapids joins more than 160 other boards in the country and is the second in the state of Iowa. The only other community in the state with such a board is Iowa City.

Leslie Neely, who was part of organizing the June 6 protest in Cedar Rapids, and Cedar Rapids resident Jorel Robinson read off a list of seven demands they and other community members want to see implemented in the city. June 6, 2020. — Jason Smith/Little Village

The council approved the first reading of the ordinance in its Jan. 26 meeting, during which councilmembers praised the work of city staff, ASJ, CRPD and other organizations involved with developing the ordinance, but acknowledged this work is only the beginning.

“I think the system that we’re going to put in place here today will help with [building trust] significantly,” Councilmember Tyler Olson said during last month’s vote. “It is a milestone day, and it’s something that has been months in the making.”

At last month’s meeting, city staff informed the council that there will be a call for applications within four to six weeks of the ordinance’s adoption. With the ordinance adopted on Feb. 9, residents should expect applications to become available in mid-to-late March, if things stay on schedule. Applications will be accepted through May.

Community Development Director Jennifer Pratt said community outreach will occur in March, April and May to make sure people are aware of the opportunity to apply. Members will be appointed in June and the board will begin its duties in the summer or fall, Pratt said.

The board will consist of nine voting members who will be appointed by the mayor with input and approval by the city council.

Three of the members will be selected from applications submitted by the general public, and one member must be an attorney. Three members must be employees or volunteers for a nonprofit focused on racial justice, such as ASJ, NAACP or LULAC. The last two members must be employees or volunteers for a service provider that “works with underrepresented segments of the population in the areas of mental health, physical health, homelessness, food insecurity, or similar social issues.”

At least five of the members will be people of color. All members must be Cedar Rapids residents. The three-year terms will be staggered and individuals can’t serve more than two consecutive terms.

Members will also be required to complete various training requirements that are outlined in the ordinance.

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The city’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2022, which begins on July 1, 2021, includes $25,000 to assist with the needs of the board, City Manager Jeff Pomeranz said during the council’s budget work session on Monday.

“Exactly what those dollars will be used for — we’re looking at that right now,” Pomeranz said. “There is no absolutes. We don’t have to spend these dollars if they’re not needed, but they’re in the budget in case there are some costs associated with the citizen review board.”

The city is also proposing to budget $30,000 for a traffic stop analysis, Pomeranz said. The three-year effort will look at who is stopped by CRPD officers, why they’re stopped and what policies need to be improved.


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