Despite lack of oversight, Community Police Review Board argues it plays role in calling out Iowa City police misconduct

Published: Jun. 9, 2020 at 11:50 PM CDT
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IOWA CITY, Iowa (KCRG) - As part of their dozen-plus demands for the Iowa City Council, police department, school board, and Gov. Kim Reynolds, the Iowa Freedom Riders, the group leading protests in Iowa City for the last week, are demanding the city give more authority to its Community Police Review Board.

The board’s lack of power has drawn criticism, including from one of its former members, Mazahir Salih, Iowa City’s current mayor pro tem.

“The committee doesn’t have teeth. The committee cannot do anything,” Salih said during a virtual city council work session on Tuesday. “They don’t have power. They don’t have anything. And from this, I will encourage all the African-Americans who want to, or all the people of color who have complaints with the police review board, is stop sending any complaints because you are wasting your time. They will look at it, and even if the police are wrong, they will just put it there. Nothing happens. That’s why this committee does not have any power.”

But in its own virtual meeting later Tuesday, the members of the Community Police Review Board argue they play an important role in checking police misconduct, as they answered questions from the public about their purpose and powers.

“At this point, we function as an advisory board, but we — keep in mind that what we’re trying to do is take a look and assure that citizens’ rights aren’t being violated,” Board Vice-Chair Orville Townsend said.

People have 90 days after an incident with the Iowa City Police Department to file a complaint with the board. The five members of the board, all of whom are citizen volunteers and serve four-year terms, can then conduct their own investigation.

“We review any body cam footage, any audio, any recording or documents associated with the case, and then we submit our recommendation,” Chair Monique Galpin said.

However, the police chief doesn’t have to follow that recommendation. The board also doesn’t have the power to subpoena officers as part of the review, which is included in the Iowa Freedom Riders’ demands to expand the board’s authority and oversight.

“We don't have any capacity to write legislation or draft legislation or introduce additional measures for the police department, only request them,” board member David Selmer said.

The board does publish its findings online on the City of Iowa City’s website. While its members can’t do anything past that, they say providing that information to the public is a power in itself.

“If we've got an officer that keeps doing something wrong, it's like a flashlight that says to the city council, ‘Hey, we have a problem,’” Townsend said.

Only the city council has the power to expand the board’s authority, which begged one more question from a member of the public, Sameer Ali, during Tuesday’s meeting: Who is the oversight for the Iowa City Police?

“Ultimately, it’s the chief of police and the city manager,” Selmer said.

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