Survey shows Cedar Rapids residents support creating a citizen review board for the CRPD

People marching down Pioneer Avenue SE in Cedar Rapids on July 3, 2020. — Michael Schodin/Little Village

Slightly more than half of Cedar Rapids residents who responded to the city’s survey believe a citizen review board would have a positive impact on the community.

The Cedar Rapids City Council heard from city staff on Tuesday about the survey results and next steps, including a resolution with recommendations that will come before council at the next meeting on Oct. 20.

Creating an independent citizen review board is one of seven demands brought forward by the Advocates of Social Justice during their June 6 protest. The Cedar Rapids City Council unanimously backed a resolution based on the seven demands during a special meeting on June 19.

Information about the creation of a citizen review board was shared by city staff during a council meeting in late July. The 90-day timeline ended up getting delayed due to the Aug. 10 derecho.

More than 2,200 residents responded to the survey between Aug. 6 and Sept. 30, Community Development Assistant Director Bill Micheel said during Tuesday’s presentation. The survey had 10 questions, including past experiences with the Cedar Rapids Police Department and what impact a citizen review board will have on Cedar Rapids.

City of Cedar Rapids Council Meeting – October 6th, 2020

City of Cedar Rapids Council Meeting – October 6th, 2020. Comments are not moderated.

Posted by City of Cedar Rapids Iowa Government on Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Community Development Director Jennifer Pratt defined a citizen review board as “an independent body created to influence and improve police practices to ensure community law enforcement is constitutional, effective … [and] responsive to the standards, values and needs of those to be served.”

Pratt also mentioned that there are five common goals of citizen review boards:

• Improving public trust
• Ensuring accessible complaint processes
• Promoting thorough, fair investigations
• Increasing transparency
• Deterring police misconduct

“We’re trying to find the right fit for that board to make sure that those are the goals that we can achieve in our community,” Pratt said.

A total of 54 percent of survey respondents indicated having a citizen review board would be positive or very positive. Twenty-one percent were neutral, and 25 percent said a citizen review board would be negative or very negative to the community.

Micheel also provided a graph to council that showed the answers sorted by the respondents’ race.

Results from the City of Cedar Rapids’ survey on what type of impact a citizen review board would have on the city. The results were sorted by race. — screenshot from the city’s presentation slides

For past experiences with CRPD, 65 percent of respondents said their interactions have been positive or very positive interactions. Six percent of respondents said they have had negative or very negative interactions with CRPD, and the remaining 29 percent selected neutral.

Micheel said the racial demographics of the respondents are “reflective of the demographics of our population almost exactly.” If that’s the case, then more than 80 percent of respondents were white.

“We are focused on trying to amplify voices of people of color through this process, and so we’re finding additional ways to do that,” Micheel said.

Another part of the public engagement process is focus groups, which are being conducted through Oct. 9, Micheel said. The 10 focus groups will be facilitated by the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement (NACOLE). NACOLE is a nonprofit that works to establish and improve oversight of police officers across the country.

The discussions within the focus groups will be about the impact of a citizen review board, experiences with law enforcement, desired outcomes and related topics. The discussion topics were selected by NACOLE, ASJ and city staff, Micheel said.

Protesters in Cedar Rapids marched on July 18, 2020. — Izabela Zaluska/Little Village

One of the topics during the focus groups will be what citizen review board model would work best for Cedar Rapids, Micheel said.

There are four main types of citizen review boards: review, monitor/auditor, investigation and a hybrid model.

The review model focuses primarily on increasing public trust during the complaint investigation process by giving community members the ability to review the quality of misconduct investigations performed.

The monitor/auditor model focuses on long-term changes. Micheel said with this model there is a lot of data collection, data analysis and active engagement from community members in the complaint process.

The investigation model includes an oversight agency that has full-time civilian investigators that conduct independent investigations, Micheel said.

Lastly, there’s the hybrid model, which takes on different aspects of the three models. This type of citizen review board is becoming “more and more common,” Micheel said.

“The reason for that is because cities have developed these models based on what’s right for their community,” Micheel said about the hybrid model’s popularity. “So, they pull the pieces and parts out that really work best for them and no two civilian review boards across the country are alike. It’s also important to understand what state laws allow, what collective bargaining agreements allow, and so there’s a lot of considerations there.”

City staff will draft a resolution for the council’s Oct. 20 meeting with a recommendation of what type of model might work best in Cedar Rapids. The resolution will also direct staff to create an ordinance that will be brought to council at a later date, Pratt said.

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