Residents look to expand authority of Iowa City Community Police Review Board

The Iowa City Community Police Review Board has not directly interviewed a complainant since 2012, while most of their other complaints received since then have been filed as requiring no further investigation.


Jeff Sigmund

David Selmer a member of the Iowa City Community Police Review Board, speaks during a community forum.As seen on Monday, Sept.21,2020.

Clinton Garlock, News Reporter

During Monday’s annual Iowa City Community Police Review Board forum, community members had the chance to ask questions, give suggestions, and recount their perceptions of Iowa City’s police department and the effectiveness of its oversight review board.

While some commenters conveyed their appreciation for the review board’s work, Iowa City resident Aaron Page said he was concerned with their review practices and referenced their past actions, saying they did not go far enough.

According to the board’s public records, a formal meeting with a complainant has not been conducted by the review board since 2012, with the 34 other fully reviewed complaints since that time going through different levels of review. These did not involve a direct interview with the complainant.

He said he had both experience with similar review boards in other cities and expertise as a criminal justice attorney. Page said the relative lack of communication with complainants is “really surprising and sort of a difficult fact.”

“Receiving and interviewing the complainant is seen to be the bedrock function [of citizen review boards],” Page said.

Board member David Selmer, a third-year board member who also practices criminal law, said every formal complaint begins with the complainant’s narrative, and that the board also has access to other information, such as bodycam and dashcam footage, and police testimony.

“Most of the time, we have enough information to feel comfortable making a decision to do what we need to do,” CPRB Vice Chair Orville Townsend Sr. said.

Townsend added that the review board has the capacity to meet with the individual when it is deemed necessary.

According to the board’s records, of the 35 fully reviewed complaints since 2012, 24 were filed as on the record with no additional investigation, while the last 10 involved the board requesting additional investigation or assistance from the police chief in the board’s investigation.

Seven of those 10 complaints were made in 2013, making up the entirety of the complaints reviewed that year, according to records.

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Later in the meeting, Sabri Sky, a survivor of police violence, shared her experiences with the forum, and said it took her five years to even realize that she could ask for accountability from the police officers who harmed her.

Sky said that while her interactions with Iowa City police officers have gotten better since then, it is important to foster a policing culture that does not breed fear or anxiety within the community.

“My point is that what is considered appropriate is damaging,” Sky said.

The review board members explained procedures and methods that citizens like Sky can use to hold police officers accountable, such as asking for the officer’s name and badge number, recognizing that officers are required to wear body cameras, and filing complaints with the board itself or the Human Rights Commission.

Board member Latisha McDaniel said that if a person does not feel comfortable bringing a complaint to the board by themselves, they may also do so through a third party.

Throughout the forum, the board members also fielded several questions about the review board’s specific powers and practices. Board member Amanda Nichols, who began her tenure in July, said the board has the authority to make recommendations to the Iowa City City Council for police policy procedures.

Throughout the meeting, board members reminded viewers that the review board is an advisory committee. Selmer and Townsend said the city council recently gave the board a charge to allow members to recommend things they wanted to change or enhance.

Townsend said this charge was an opportunity to talk to past board members, collect information, and use conversations held in forums to strengthen the board’s role within the community.

“I don’t think we want to get into discipline or trying to tell the police chief what he or she should do,” Townsend said. “We’re going to be submitting a report with recommendations to the city council that hopefully will strengthen our board’s presence, but also staying within those boundaries of being an advisory board.”

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