Derecho recovery delays plan to establish citizens review board in Cedar Rapids

Cedar Rapids protesters marched from Greene Square Park to City Hall on July 18, 2020. — Izabela Zaluska/Little Village

The timeline to establish an independent citizens review board in Cedar Rapids to provide public oversight of the police has been pushed back a couple of months due to the impacts of the Aug. 10 derecho.

A presentation to the Cedar Rapids City Council on recommendations and results from the public input process is now planned for the Nov. 17 meeting, Community Development Director Jennifer Pratt told Little Village. The presentation was originally planned for the Sept. 22 meeting.

Creating an independent citizens review board is one of seven demands the grassroots group Advocates for Social Justice has brought to the city. The demands were first announced during the group’s flagship protest on June 6 at Greene Square Park.

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

Pratt and Community Development assistant director Bill Micheel presented the city’s 90-day plan for establishing a citizen review board during a Cedar Rapids City Council meeting on July 28. The plan has three main parts: process development, public engagement and results.

Pratt told Little Village that one of the things city staff heard immediately from NACOLE is to make sure the public understands the need for and concept of a citizens review board. (NACOLE is the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement, a nonprofit that works to establish and improve oversight of police officers across the country.)

“So, that was why we really felt that our public participation process was so important because it’s just a good way to educate the public about why you would have one of these groups as well as getting that sense of ownership in the board itself,” Pratt said.

One of the first parts of the public engagement process was a survey, which wrapped up at the end of August. The survey asked questions about the respondent, including their past experiences with the Cedar Rapids Police Department and what impact they think a citizens review board will have on Cedar Rapids.

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

Another part of the public engagement process includes focus groups, which have been delayed due to the derecho. The plan is for about 10 people to meet via Zoom and discuss the role, authority and purpose of the review board. The goal is to get a mix of perspectives.

“We’ve been working with ASJ on making sure that the people and the groups that we were inviting to those focus groups that we hadn’t missed anybody [and] that we were gaining key perspectives,” Pratt said. “We were just finalizing that list and starting to put time on calendars and then all of a sudden we have a storm.”

Pratt added that the city is in “good shape to get those focus groups started” but wants to give people time to recover after the storm.

“We want to be considerate of people today as they recover from the storm, but we also do understand the interest to keep the process moving forward and not lose momentum,” Pratt said.

Aftermath of the Aug. 10 derecho in Cedar Rapids. — photo courtesy of Steve Shriver

Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the city already had to make changes to how focus groups are being conducted by moving them online. The derecho created additional challenges by leaving many residents out of power and internet. Three weeks after the derecho , thousands are still without internet.

Despite the setbacks, Pratt said she feels confident that city staff will get the results and recommendations to council by the November meeting.

“We do appreciate ASJ’s input and their working with us on this, as well as the expertise that we’re getting from NACOLE has been amazing, so we feel like we’re still in a good place,” Pratt said.