Editorial Roundup: Iowa

Des Moines Register. May 15, 2022.

Editorial: A new report offers a path to answers about racial profiling by police. Will Des Moines take it?

Recommendations in a new report, which echo earlier calls from activists on racial profiling and other issues, can help police build community trust.

Social justice advocates stood on the steps of Des Moines City Hall last week to urge action on the findings of a new report on law enforcement.

Wind blew their handwritten signs. A megaphone changed hands three times. After 11½ minutes, the news conference, with representatives of Iowa Citizens for CommunityImprovement, Just Voices and Des Moines Showing Up for Racial Justice, was done.

This brevity was symbolic of what the groups were asking of the City Council. Less talk and more action — action on things they’ve repeatedly requested over the past few years. Ending racial profiling. Ending pretextual traffic stops. Making marijuana a low-level enforcement priority. But the Des Moines Police Department won’t concede the existence of problems that give rise to those suggestions. So activists have repeatedly requested that data be collected on all stops and made available to the public,a community review board be established, and a third-party investigation of DMPD be conducted.

“I hope that we, the public, will bring pressure to the City Council to take not only our recommendations,” said Laural Clinton, a member of Iowa CCI whose son experienced racial profiling by DMPD and won a settlement, “but the recommendations they paid $84,000 for to Public Works that said exactly what we told them for free.”

If Clinton sounds a bit prideful, it seems justified.

Des Moines can collect data to inform strategies

The report Clinton references was presented to council members at an April 27 work session. “This project originated with a wide array of concerns about the potential of racially disparate law and code enforcement in the city and people are eager to get the answer to what is the extent of that, if any,” said Eric Schnurer, founder and president of Public Works LLC, which conducted the study. “I’m not here to give you that answer. I’m here to give you an answer for this study.”

The 207-page document was condensed into 23 recommendations (pages 143 and 144), grouped by core attribute categories: Accountable, Analytic, Transparency and Actionable. The recommendations, all of which the advocacy groups had been asking for, include these areas:

Accountable

The DMPD collects limited data on stops that result in a warning, citation or arrest. Public Works recommends that officers collect data on all stops, capture race and gender, and add calls for service, crime/offense and use of force data.

Analytic

DMPD performs little analysis on data it collects. Public Works recommends the department establish and staff a Data Analysis Unit, analyze stop data, and produce an annual report for the public.

Transparency

Currently, the DMPD produces an annual Statistical Report of two or three pages. Public Works recommends a comprehensive “Annual State of Policing and Public Safety Report,” plus changes to the DMPD website to enable interactivity and allow the public to easily filter and analyze policing data.

Actionable

DMPD does not currently have a strategic plan. Public Works recommends creation of a three- to five-year strategic plan that includes a focus on data accountability, analytics, transparency, and actionability as stated in the Law Enforcement Data Report.

Just like the advocacy groups, Public Works also recommends creation of a Community Advisory and Review Board. The board would be made up of diverse community members, advocates and stakeholders and would “review and collaborate with DMPD on matters of public safety and community well-being.” Also recommended: a Behavioral and Mental Health Work Group “to inform ongoing data analysis and efficacy regarding crisis response and diversion efforts.”

What a citizen review board would do

In addition to reviewing investigations of police officer misconduct, a Community Advisory and Review Board would be a liaison between the police department and the community, eliciting and communicating community member concerns and working with the police department to address them.

Both Public Works and Des Moines advocacy groups point to Cedar Rapids as a local example. The City Council there in summer 2020 set in motion the creation of a board, at the request of a local social justice group. By February 2021, the board was established.

Jennifer Pratt, community development director for the city of Cedar Rapids, said she has not read the Law Enforcement Data Report but feels that part of the reason Cedar Rapids got a board established so quickly is that the request came after George Floyd’s murder.

“The fact that we were creating this as part of that national movement helped because both sides were sitting at the table thinking ‘How can we be better?’” Pratt said.

Pratt stressed that each city must create a solution that works for it: “The National Association of Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement was a valuable resource for us. We brought them in very early to help us identify, because I think, again, the thing that really helped us is we were looking at what is the best model for us.”

City should adopt report’s ideas, not compromise on half-measures

In a separate development, Des Moines Police Chief Dana Wingert has said the DMPD plans to seek police department accreditation through the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies Inc.

An organization providing accreditation is not the third-party consultant that Des Moines advocacy groups want. They want an investigation.

“You’ve got over one and a half million dollars in lawsuit settlements paid out by the city of Des Moines for bad police behavior in the last five years,” said Lori Young, Iowa CCI member and director of communications for Just Voices. “You have female officers suing the police department for sexual harassment and discrimination. You have video evidence of excessive force during the 2020 protests and police brutality. You have disproportionate arrests of Black people for marijuana possession. You have racial profiling. Accreditation does nothing to address the issues.”

City Manager Scott Sanders said that his office and the police department need to work through the report and identify the items to be addressed and a timeline.

Hopefully, that doesn’t mean talking and relative inaction for years. Hopefully, that doesn’t mean picking some items that do little to address the concerns that prompted the report and discarding those that do.

Hopefully.

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Dubuque Telegraph Herald. May 15, 2022.

Editorial: Local elected officials do not deserve harassment

When citizens step up to hold local elective office, most understand that they are signing on for some headaches, a fair amount of hard work and sometimes making decisions that do not please everybody.

While community members have a right to question those decisions and voice opinions on local issues, that feedback should never take the form of threats, harassment or intimidation.

It’s been troubling to see members of the East Dubuque City Council experiencing just that. Three members of the council resigned within 30 days this spring, one of them citing mental health concerns stemming from harassment from residents after a March council meeting. Chad Biermeier said he received “very clear messages” from residents via emails, phone calls, Facebook messages and visits to his home and workplace. The other two council members declined to disclose their reasons for resigning.

Complaining to an elected official is one thing. Driving that person from office is another.

Most troubling of all is one source of that harassment who has held local office himself — former Mayor Kirk VanOstrand.

Mayor Randy Degenhardt petitioned Jo Daviess County Circuit Court in early April seeking a stalking/no-contact order against VanOstrand, who Degenhardt said had harassed him for months with demands that he fire City Manager Loras Herrig. His petition ultimately was denied by a judge who said that VanOstrand’s behavior toward Degenhardt didn’t rise to the level of stalking.

Still, Degenhardt said VanOstrand repeatedly contacted him over the phone, at his home and at City Hall, often screaming or using offensive language. Degenhardt has served the city as a council member for 47 years. He doesn’t deserve this abuse.

Then came a 911 call on April 21 made by VanOstrand, sending emergency vehicles to City Hall for someone “not breathing” during the City Council meeting in which council members approved a three-year contract for City Manager Loras Herrig. The call originated from VanOstrand’s home. When Police Chief Luke Kovacic and another officer arrived at the house, VanOstrand claimed that it was he who had stopped breathing but had soon recovered. Kovacic has called for charges of creating a false alarm for an emergency response to be brought against VanOstrand.

The body cam video related to the call certainly seems to support the police chief’s assessment of the situation. VanOstrand should face consequences for his actions.

When Judge John Hay previously ruled that VanOstrand’s behavior toward Degenhardt didn’t rise to the level of stalking, he said he did not want the situation to escalate or for his ruling to indicate that “an individual can do whatever they want, whenever they want, to express their dissatisfaction with government.”

Allegedly calling 911 to report a medical emergency to interrupt a City Council meeting certainly crosses that line.

This hasn’t been the only erratic behavior on the part of VanOstrand. Two other incidents happened while he was mayor — a post he resigned abruptly at the beginning of a council meeting in October. Earlier last year, he was charged with leaving the scene of a crash he caused in Grant County, Wis. According to authorities, VanOstrand exited the Three Mile House restaurant, crashed into another vehicle and then “gunned it and took off” toward East Dubuque, leaving part of his front bumper at the scene.

In 2019, VanOstrand was involved in a fight at a Sinsinawa Avenue bar in which he was accused of tackling a person, striking him repeatedly and running away.

It’s hard to imagine what’s going on with VanOstrand, but don’t let his checkered past take our sights off the seemingly increasing amount of abuse many local elected officials endure — both in East Dubuque and elsewhere. This is not just a one-man problem.

Credit goes to those who have stuck it out on the East Dubuque City Council and those who have stepped up to be appointed for the vacancies. No local elected officials should have to endure harassment from constituents.

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