Iowa-Nebraska NAACP and the Iowa Police Chiefs Association launch a task force to examine police-community issues

Matt Ring

The Iowa-Nebraska NAACP and the Iowa Police Chiefs Association (IPCA) announced the creation of a new statewide task force to work on improving relations between law enforcement agencies and the communities they serve.

“It is undeniable that now is the time for improving law enforcement and community relationships. Those relationships are authenticated by transparent practices and engaged citizens,” Betty Andrews, president of the Iowa-Nebraska NAACP, said in a statement about the new Law Enforcement Vision for Equality Task Force. “Through establishing this statewide Law Enforcement Equity Task Force, the Iowa Police Chiefs Association is poised to ensure unbiased policing in our state. This includes building on recent improvements and also addressing racial profiling, hiring practices, citizens review boards, officers living in the communities they police, and a number of other challenging topics.”

The 14-member task force will be co-chaired by Iowa City NAACP President Kevin Sanders and Chief Jeremy Logan of the Oelwein Police Department, a past president of the IPCA. Johnson County Sheriff Lonny Pulkrabek is also serving on the task force.

Johnson County Sheriff Lonny Pulkrabek. — official photo

“Despite the advances that Iowa law enforcement has made in recent years, there is clearly more work ahead. Iowa’s police executives, and the officers they lead, must embrace the concerns and criticism being voiced and re-examine their policies and approach,” IPCA President Rob Burdess, the chief of police in Newton, said. “At the same time, while policing is the focus, community members and elected officials must realize they play a crucial role in moving constructive efforts forward.”

This is one of several efforts in changing how policing works in Iowa that have happened in response to the protests that followed the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers on May 25.

Last Friday, the leaders of all of Johnson County’s law enforcement agencies signed a “Duty to Intercede” memorandum of understanding. The agencies agreed to adopt policies requiring officers to intervene if they see another officer using excessive force, and immediately report the incident to a supervisor.

The memo was part of the 17-point resolution the Iowa City Council passed on June 16 in response to demands from the Iowa Freedom Riders (IFR), as well as hundreds of emails from community members. Among its other provisions, the resolution also banned the Iowa City Police Department from using chokeholds, mandated an investigation in the use of teargas and flash-bag grenades on June 3 and started the process of creating a plan to restructure the police department to emphasize community policing and the use of alternatives to traditional police officers in non-violent situations.

In Cedar Rapids, the city council approved a resolution on Friday to address all seven demands for police reform by Advocates for Social Justice, the group who has led recent protest in that city. Among those demands were the prohibition of chokeholds the formation of a citizen’s police review board and a significant investment in diversity, equity and inclusion.

At the state level, the Iowa legislature passed a major police reform bill in just over two hours on June 11. But for the second year in a row, the Iowa Senate did not vote on a constitutional amendment to restore the voting right of people convicted of a felony after they finish their sentence, despite Gov. Reynolds calling the amendment one of her top priorities.

Iowa is the only the state that still automatically disenfranchises everyone convicted of a felony.

Reynolds said last week she would sign an executive order to automatically restore the voting rights of some people convicted of felonies in time for the November election. On Monday night, IFR, Des Moines Black Lives Matter and other groups around the state held protests and demanded Reynolds sign the executive order by July 4. All 18 Democrats sent a letter to the governor on Wednesday that also asked her to sign the order by July 4.

Reynolds was asked during her press conference on Thursday when she plans to sign the executive order. The governor declined to set a date, but said it should be done some time in the late summer. She said her legal team was still working on the order.

In 2005, Gov. Tom Vilsack, a Democrat, issued an executive order automatically restoring the voting rights of people convicted of felonies at the end of their sentences. Republican Gov. Terry Branstad overturned it with an executive order when he took office in 2011.

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