The Iowa City Council voted unanimously on Tuesday night to approve the appointment of Dustin Liston as chief of the Iowa City Police Department. Liston, an Iowa native who has served as police officer in El Paso, Texas, for 22 years, was the choice of City Manager Geoff Fruin after a search process that began after Chief Jody Materly announced his retirement in February.
Fruin explained during the council meeting the city had received 18 applications for the chief’s position. Four applicants were selected to come to Iowa City for interviews with Fruin and an advisory committee made up of 15 members of the community. Three of the applicants were chosen as finalists.
Along with Liston, Jason Lando, a commander in the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police, and Jeremy Logan, the chief of police in Oelwein, Iowa, were the finalists. All three participated in a community meet-and-greet in Mercer Park on Aug. 24.
Speaking at the meet-and-greet, Liston said he’d applied for the job not because he wanted to be a chief of police, but because he specifically wanted to the chief of police in Iowa City.
“This is the place I want to be,” Liston said. “This is my community… I wanted to get back to Iowa. I’m not looking to go to any other community, I want to come to this community.”
“So, if it doesn’t work out for me today, I’ll be happy to stay in El Paso.”
Liston grew up in Eldora, Iowa, where his parent still live. He attended the University of Iowa, graduating with BA as a dual major in psychology and sociology in 1997. During his time as an undergraduate in Iowa City, Liston taught swimming lessons at Mercer Park Aquatic Center and the Robert A. Lee Recreation Center. He also worked as a lifeguard at the City Park Pool.
In addition, Liston interned at the Iowa City Police Department. It was his first experience with policing.
After graduating, Liston followed the path of his older brother, who was already a member of the El Paso Police Department.
Starting as a patrol officer in 1998, Liston is now a lieutenant. In 2016, he earned a master’s degree in criminal justice from Sul Ross State University in Texas.
Since July 2019, Liston has served at the department’s Fusion Center, which performs intelligence analysis, coordinating with federal, state and other local law enforcement agencies.
“At the Fusion Center, he’s proven to be a very strong collaborator and an excellent communicator,” Fruin told city councilmembers on Tuesday. “Two of the very skills we were seeking from the outset of this process.”
El Paso, a major border city, is considerably larger than Iowa City with over 680,000. It’s a racially diverse community with a majority Hispanic population.
Fruin said Liston’s “experience of serving a diverse community, understanding the outreach and engagement that goes along with that” made him stand out as an applicant.
As an officer in El Paso, Liston also had experience with a large university. The University of Texas at El Paso has a student body of 25,000.
Fruin pointed out that in more than two decades as a police officer, Liston has faced no disciplinary actions, and said he’d been told Liston “is regarded as having strong morals and ethics that serve as a foundation for all of his actions.”
In the questionnaire applicants for police chief submitted, Liston was asked what “ethics and values that are most important for a Police Chief to consistently demonstrate.” In response, Liston discussed the importance of being “a servant leader.”
The theory of servant leadership best demonstrates the ethics and values that are most important for a Police Chief. The servant-leader puts the service of others, including employees and the community first. Servant leaders prioritize other’s needs to encourage autonomy, empathy, personal growth while also mentoring others to engage in servant leadership. Servant leaders are particularly concerned with how leadership decisions affect those least privileged in society.
In other answers on the questionnaire, Liston discusses the importance of procedural justice — which he describes as being based on “fairness in the processes, transparency in actions, opportunities for voice, and impartiality in decision making” — and used to improve a law enforcement agency’s approach to social justice and racial equity.
“He has significant experience with community policing programs in El Paso, including CIT [crisis intervention team] civilian response programs, which will undoubtedly help shape our efforts here in Iowa City,” Fruin noted.
Speaking before the vote, Councilmember Laura Bergus said, “When we had the opportunity, some of us councilors, to meet with the three finalists, what really struck me about Mr. Liston was his understanding of where we were as a community after this summer.”
She added that Liston showed an understanding of the council’s commitment to community policing and its intention to make changes to ICPD practices.
Mayor Bruce Teague said, “I am 100 percent supporting Dustin Liston as police chief.” The mayor said he wouldn’t hesitate to oppose Liston’s appointment if he didn’t think he was the right person for the position.
“This role is so critical,” Teague said of the job of police chief.
At the community event in Mercer Park in August, Liston said, “I’m ready to work with the community, and I think that’s the most important thing we can do in today’s society.
“A lot of people have felt like they have no longer had a voice in what law enforcement does, and without legitimacy, we cannot do our job. If there’s not that mutual trust and respect, we cannot do what we do.”
Liston will assume his role as chief of the Iowa City Police Department in January.