Police engage in outreach

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A police car sits inside the a parking garage on May 4, 2015. (The Daily Iowan/Sergio Flores)

Tom Ackerman, [email protected]

As police fall under further scrutiny nationwide, local officers conversed and joked with community members over coffee Monday morning.

Several officers in Iowa City arrived at High Ground Cafe, 301 E. Market St., to open a dialogue with the public and offer time to listen to concerns individuals may have.

“There’s so much media coverage of the couple of horrific events that take place between police and citizens,” said downtown liason Officer David Schwindt. “People don’t get to really see the positive things that police do every day.”

The event started about a year-and-a-half ago, when Schwindt looked for ways to reach out to the community. These kinds of efforts have been made possible in Iowa City through the hiring of community outreach-focused police officers and a federal grant.

“Community policing is very time intensive,” he said. “[The job allows us] to go out and do things like this where we can meet with the public and not be interrupted.”

The Community Oriented Policing Services grant was given to the police in January 2013, allowing the department to hire Schwindt, as well as an officer who focuses on surrounding neighborhoods. Schwindt spends all of his time on foot or bike downtown for the job.

Iowa City City Councilor Jim Throgmorton stopped by and said the event is an excellent way to put issues on the table with the public.

“I really think it’s a great initiative,” he said.

Officer R.A Mebus is a crime-prevention officer who also participates in the outings. He suggested community members reach out to police — even if a coffee event isn’t available.

“If you have a concern and want to talk to somebody, reach out. If you simply have a question, call the dispatch number,” he said. “That’s absolutely acceptable, and we encourage that.”

Turnout for the events ranges from a few goers to 40 people, Schwindt said. Organizers continually change the location and time to better accommodate those who can’t easily travel across town.

“Some places will have more walk-ins than others,” he said. “We kind of move all over the city.”

Schwindt said some people have taken the opportunity to look for a confrontation with police, but he welcomes the challenge to hear new perspectives and have a discussion about the issues.

“Sometimes their understanding of why we do things or of a circumstance isn’t the whole picture,” he said. “Rather than have them be frustrated with the situation or a policy, I would prefer them come in and voice that to us so we have the opportunity to explain why we do things.”

Monday was the officers’ second time at High Ground. Schwindt said all they ask hosting venues for is a space and to put a sign outside about the event.

“When we go to smaller places, the neighborhood will come in. I think that makes it more personal,” Mebus said.

Some previous locations have included the Broadway neighborhood center, Hy-Vee, Daylight Donuts, McDonalds, Panera Bread, and the Old Capitol Town Center, organizers said. The next event will take place in a few weeks, and newcomers are encouraged to attend.

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