Waterloo police working to build better relationships with black community

Published: Nov. 13, 2016 at 6:47 PM CST
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Police are working to fix a racial divide in Waterloo. A Department of Justice review released earlier this year noted a clear lack of trust between the minority community and some officers.

It recommended improving police-community relationships, hiring more minority officers, and increased transparency on complaints and discipline.

After initial calls for Police Chief Dan Trelka to step down, he says he now has a plan to turn the department around within five years

Video that went viral of a handcuffed black man having his hair pulled and yelled at by a white police officer is the most recent issue between Waterloo police and the black community.

Waterloo resident Anthony White says, “If you put on that uniform and you're scared of the black man, then you shouldn't put on that uniform.”

Anthony White says various incidents highlight the disconnect he feels and sees between police and the black community.

He says, “All they do is ride in their car and they don't know the community. And they sort of snobbish to the young folks, well the young folks get snobbish back.”

Police Chief Dan Trelka says part of the problem is a lack diversity in his department. With only two black officers, and one Hispanic, the majority of Waterloo police officers are white and from a small town in Iowa.

“There are times where our newer officers will roll up on two seventeen year old black men standing on the corner of the street, Trelka says. And they will have a preconceived notion that they are gang members. They are not. And the message I just articulated to you. I need to articulate to my officers.”

White adds, "If you come from a little country town and was probably raised never to interact with blacks, and now all of a sudden you wanna be a policeman and this is what you have to do, well you don't know how to do it."

The solution Trelka believes is getting officers out and involved more in the community. He also wants to sit down with some people his officers may have arrested to see how they can fix the department.

Trelka says, "I've developed a team of felons. A team of convicted citizens who have been convicted of felonies who are going to sit down with me, and we are going to look at our policies. Especially use of force policies.”

One of them is Christopher Short. He served time for arson, and battery on a police officer. He turned to Christianity after being released, and now has a different outlook on officers.

He says, "I actually see them as people that are trying to help, but also as human beings that make mistakes as well.”

Short knows those mistakes can be costly, so he is talking with gang members to see why they turn to crime, and how police can help break the cycle. He is married to a black woman, and believes that gives him a unique perspective on social issues.

He says, “I do know what it feels like to face racism head on. A lot of people don't like mixed relationships... I still worry about my wife. You can't help not to when you see the stuff going on.”

Ultimately, Trelka says the Department of Justice report paints a picture of a department disconnected, and a black community wanting better relationships with police.

Trelka says, “Out of the 148 shootings we had in Waterloo last year, most of them were property damage shootings. [People] Shooting up cars, shooting up houses. Over 90 percent of the victims were African Americans. So African American citizens don't want to be policed, they want to be protected."