Opinion | Iowa City Community Police Review Board needs to be strengthened

Particularly following this summer’s use of force against protesters, the Iowa City Community Police Review Board needs expanded authority to hold officers accountable.


Katie Goodale

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

Evan Mantler, Opinions Contributor

Amid many groups’ calls to restructure, reform, or even defund police departments across the country, Iowa City unveiled a new community policing initiative that promises to include mental health responders on calls. But with these new methods of policing, we also need to enhance safeguards that increase transparency.

Iowa City needs to expand the authority of our Community Police Review Board. The board, which is made up of five City Council appointed citizens, reviews Iowa City Police misconduct complaints from residents and suggests policy changes to the department.

Right now, the board is not fulfilling its purpose. It’s intended to increase accountability and community trust in the police department—something we desperately need following this summer’s national protests and our own city’sexperience of police violence.

Having a Community Police Review Board is one way to restore public faith in our justice system, but only if they have the power to make positive change.

Currently, the board’s authority is limited in several major ways.

First, when conducting investigations into allegations of misconduct, the board is allowed to interview witnesses, but officers are not required to cooperate with board investigations of misconduct (and they often don’t, according to the board).

The board is also not allowed access to an officer’s disciplinary record at any time. Under state law, disciplinary action against city employees, including police officers, is kept confidential. This means that there is no way for the board to track repeat offenders or catch larger patterns of behavior.

It also means that the board has no way of knowing whether an officer has been disciplined following a sustained complaint. The board only has the authority to judge whether misconduct has occurred; it has no power to ensure any discipline whatsoever. The police chief and city manager have the discretion to determine any consequences an officer might face.

That’s fine as long as we have a police chief and city manager acting in good faith, but we have to enact safeguards under the assumption that might not always be the case.

“Things are good as long as we’ve got the chief, but we have to be active as if we don’t have the guy in the white hat, in case the guy in the black hat comes rolling in,” the board’s chair, David Selmer, said in an open meeting on Feb. 9.

At the request of the Iowa City City Council and following council meetings with the Iowa Freedom Riders, the board submitted a list of proposed changes that would expand its authority. In its proposal, the board asks that police officers be required to comply with their investigations and stressed the necessity of allowing the Community Police Review Board to review officer discipline following a sustained complaint.

Iowa City needs to make sure the changes on the list are adopted.

I know the “my tax dollars pay your salary” line is old and a bit tired, but it’s still true. Police officers work for us, and citizens should be allowed to know if officers misbehave and be able to hold them accountable.

What is the point of having a review, if officers aren’t required to participate? How can the board ensure accountability if they don’t have the capacity to at least weigh in on sanctions of officers?

Without access to necessary information, the board is limited to jumping through tedious hoops to produce reports with all the authority of a strongly worded letter.

The problems of police misconduct and lack of public trust in law enforcement won’t go away on their own. We have to do something. If city law is the problem, let’s change city law. If state law is the problem, let’s change that too.

It’s time to get serious about accountability. We’ve had the protests, we’ve had the meetings, we’ve passed the resolutions. What we need to see now is how, or if, our systems will meaningfully change.

Columns reflect the opinions of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Editorial Board, The Daily Iowan, or other organizations in which the author may be involved.