Cedar Rapids prepares to select citizens for its new police review board

People protested police violence, racism and the killing of George Floyd in Cedar Rapids on June 6, 2020. — Jason Smith/Little Village

The application deadline is quickly approaching for anyone interested in serving on the citizen review board that will oversee the Cedar Rapids Police Department.

The City of Cedar Rapids began accepting applications in mid-February and will stop on Monday, May 31, Memorial Day. The online application for the board is the city’s general board and commission application.

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

Community Development Director Jennifer Pratt told Little Village in an email on Monday that the city has received 54 applications from residents who want to serve on the review board. Typically, the city receives 10 to 15 applications for existing boards and commissions, because there are usually only a few vacancies each year, Pratt said.

The citizen review board will consist of nine voting members.

Three members will be selected from the general public. One member must be an attorney. Three members must be employees or volunteers for a nonprofit focused on racial justice, such as Advocates for Social Justice, 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.

While filling out the online application, individuals are encouraged to respond to the questions regarding gender, race, employment and volunteer activity, according to the city.

The staggered terms will normally be three years but will be different for the first set of members:

• Three members will serve a one-year term

• Three members will serve a two-year term

• Three members will serve a three-year term

Applications will go to the Public Safety and Youth Services committee for review. The committee will make recommendations to Mayor Brad Hart. Hart will make selections, which will then need to be approved by the Cedar Rapids City Council.

“The process is on track for CRB member recommendations to be considered by city council at their June 22 meeting,” Pratt said.

The city council had a special session on Tuesday prior to its regular meeting that was a training session facilitated by the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement (NACOLE). The training session included an overview of the history of citizen review boards, how these boards conduct oversight and common challenges that other boards in the country have faced.

Cameron McEllhiney, NACOLE’s director of training and education, stressed how important the selection process for the board is given the requirements outlined in the city’s ordinance.

The board will have regularly scheduled meetings once a month. Each member will also be required to complete training requirements after being appointed.

Training will consist of completing 30 hours worth of curriculum determined by the chief of police within six months of appointment. Members will also receive an additional 10 hours of training per year and will be required to accompany an off-duty CRPD police officer for at least 16 hours per year.

McEllhiney said it will be important to consider people’s time and ability to go to meetings, review cases and do all the required training in the specified time.

“All of your board members are going to have to have time and the willingness to go through all of this stuff,” McEllhiney said. “I know that they’ll be helped by staff through that process, but they do have a long list of responsibilities and duties, which is fantastic because an oversight entity being able to do these things leads to a more effective oversight mechanism and a better process. But it’s also nine members of the board who are tasked with ultimately having to be responsible for these items, so that also should be in the back of your mind as you’re appointing.”

Mayor Brad Hart said he could foresee a few challenges ahead in naming the initial board, having the group work together and having the community view them as effective and legitimate.

“Getting nine people to come together and do that work and to keep politics out of it and all that it’s just, you know, we’re gonna do it, but I envision it is going to be the biggest challenge in the next few months, next year,” Hart said.

Brian Corr, immediate past president of NACOLE, asked council members to answer three questions: why the board was established, what does Cedar Rapids want and what will the legacy be.

All councilmembers answered the question with Mayor Hart going first. Hart said the board was established because the city wanted to be proactive.

“We expect that this board will help show how strong our police department is, it will strengthen community trust, provide additional ways to communicate to our police department and the city, and ultimately, that will solve more crimes,” Hart said.

Councilmember Ann Poe said she hopes the legacy will be that Cedar Rapids is a welcoming, united community that “stands together for building that procedural justice” and stands together against all forms of racism.

Councilmember Ashley Vanorny added that, from her perspective, establishing the board was a “natural culmination” of the calls for justice after the murder of George Floyd, and the community activism and grassroots efforts that followed from a number of groups in the community, including the Advocates for Social Justice.

Thousands of people marched through downtown Cedar Rapids on June 6, 2020, to protest police violence, racism and the killing of George Floyd. — Jason Smith/Little Village

Councilmember Dale Todd said “there’s been an evolution in policing” that started before Floyd’s murder, but since then, the changes in policing are happening at what “almost feels like lightspeed.”

“It’s also no secret that last year was probably the toughest year ever to be a police officer, and also, it was a challenging year to be an elected official, in particular, here in Cedar Rapids,” Todd said.

“… But we believe that this [board] is going to be an opportunity for the community to see in real-time what it is officers deal with and also be a real opportunity for us to learn about the concerns from the community and have that discussion and be transparent and hold people accountable. That has been the goal from day one, and nobody is averse to getting that done. In fact, we embrace it, and we look forward to getting it done.”