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Dustin Liston sworn in as Iowa City police chief as ICPD reform efforts continue

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Official photo of Dustin Liston sworn in as chief of the Iowa City Police Department by Kellie Fruehling, Jan. 11, 2021.

Dustin Liston was sworn in as Iowa City’s chief of police on Monday morning at City Hall. The choice of Liston to lead the Iowa City Police Department by City Manager Geoff Fruin was unanimously approved by the Iowa City Council in October.

Liston joins the ICPD as the city council considers changes to the department designed to address structural racism and reduce or eliminate the use police officers in incidents involving substance abuse, crisis intervention and homelessness.

Last month, Fruin presented a preliminary plan for restructuring the police and shifting to a community policing model. The plan was mandated in the 17-point resolution the city council passed on June 16 in response to protests in the city led the Iowa Freedom Riders.

The full 246-page preliminary plan, as well as a two-page summary, are available online. The city council is currently seeking public input on the plan, and anyone wishing to comment can do so by emailing PolicePlan@iowa-city.org. There is also an online survey on the plan’s proposals.

Speaking to the Gazette last week, Liston said he considered public input on restructuring the ICPD to be important.

“The more voices we can get to contribute to this plan, the better it will be,” he said.

“I want to be engaged,” he continued. “I want the members of our department, everyone to have a voice. I also want the community to have a voice.”

The 45-year-old Liston is a University of Iowa graduate who grew up in Eldora, Iowa. In addition to earning a BA with a dual major in psychology and sociology in 1997, Liston also interned at ICPD as an undergraduate. 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 rose to the rank of lieutenant before resigning to take his new position in Iowa City. During his time with the El Paso Police Department, Liston earned a master’s degree in criminal justice from Sul Ross State University in Texas.

Speaking at a meet-and-greet for the three finalists for the chief of police position at Mercer Park in August, Liston told the crowd he 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.”

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At the event, Liston said he realized there was a lot of work to be done in improving relations between the police and the community.

“I’m ready to work with the community, and I think that’s the most important thing we can do in today’s society,” he said.

“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.”

The swearing-in ceremony at City Hall on Monday morning was smaller than such events usually are, due to COVID-19. The oath of office was administered by City Clerk Kellie Fruehling. Everyone in attendance wore face masks, and social distancing requirements were observed.

Even before the new chief was sworn in, the city council had taken action on a recommendation in the preliminary plan to restructure the ICPD. On Jan. 5, the council committed to use $35,000 from the police budget to help fund a new position at Shelter House, a street outreach specialist. The new hire will work with people experiencing homelessness in Iowa City on streets, before they would otherwise be in contact with Shelter House.

The Iowa City nonprofit, which since 1983 has provided shelter and many necessary services to people experiencing homelessness, will use state funds to supplement the annual $35,000 from the city to pay for a full-time employee to fill the new position.


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