Dustin Liston appointed Iowa City Police Chief unanimously by city council

Liston will take over as the new Chief of the Iowa City Police Department beginning in January 2021.


Katie Goodale

Iowa City Police Department vehicles are seen on July 9, 2019.

Brian Grace, News Reporter

Dustin Liston, a University of Iowa alum and former El Paso Police Department lieutenant, was appointed the new Iowa City Police Chief in a unanimous vote by city council Tuesday night.

Liston will begin his role as Chief of Police on January 11, 2021.

City Manager Geoff Fruin said Liston’s 22 years of experience with the El Paso Police Department, his position as Director of the El Paso Fusion Center, and his communication and collaboration skills made Liston a strong candidate for the position.

“I don’t take this recommendation lightly,” Fruin said. “Appointments of department heads, positions I consider probably to be the most significant responsibility I have because of the level of discretion that each of those individuals has in their areas. I think it’s important that you know that I understand the importance of this selection, and that Mr Liston has my full confidence and my full backing with this recommendation.”

Liston’s appointment comes at a time of protest against police brutality and the police department in Iowa City, and the city council has said it is committed to making significant changes to the methods and responsibilities of the department.

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Every city councilor spoke in support for Liston’s appointment, except for Councilor Mazahir Salih who did not say anything but still voted in favor of appointing him.

City Councilor Laura Bergus said she was impressed with Liston’s understanding of the city council’s commitment following protests this summer to embrace community policing as well as efforts to restructure the police department.

“I think he’s coming in at a very good moment with eyes wide open, and had very insightful and intelligent responses to our questions,” Bergus said. “Certainly I think he gets it when we talk about how Iowa City is positioned and where we want to go.”

Nicholas Theisen, an Iowa City resident who spoke during public comment in opposition to Liston’s appointment, said Liston’s work with the El Paso Fusion Center — an intelligence hub that served El Paso and area police departments — was a primary reason he shouldn’t be appointed.

“The reason why it’s distressing that Mr. Liston has been recommended by the city manager is precisely because he used to run a fusion center. I don’t know if you’re familiar with this, but during the Occupy Wall Street movement, fusion centers were actually central in cracking down on civil unrest and political protest,” Thiesen said.

Theisen also said that the ICPD hadn’t responded to local protests appropriately.

“Activists have been spied upon, they’ve been followed after protests, they’ve been pulled into cars randomly,” Theisen said. “ICPD has not been behaving responsibly responsibly with regards to protecting the civil liberties of political activists in the area.”

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City Councilor Susan Mims said in response to Theisen that she was unaware of mistreatment he spoke about during public comment.

“I must say, some of the allegations that Nicholas just made are certainly nothing that I have heard, or I guess would question the validity of some of those in terms of police dragging people into cars in Iowa City,” Mims said. “And that disturbs me when we start having these allegations with no real evidence.”

Iowa City Mayor Bruce Teague said he thought it was critical that the new police chief is vetted by the community and that what the community and city council wants policing to look like is expressed through that position.

Teague said he was confident that Liston was the right person for the job.

“I am 100 percent supporting Dustin Liston as police chief, and I would tell you that if I had one moment to think he would not serve our city well, I would have no issue with not making this recommendation, and not voting for this tonight,” Teague said. “So, I am supporting this.”