Iowa City diversity committee releases report, recommends change

BY NICK HASSETT | MARCH 08, 2013 5:00 AM

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The first and only report from Iowa City’s temporary Diversity Committee found that many minority citizens are unaware of their rights, are concerned with police actions, and feel public transportation services are lacking.

The Iowa City City Council created the Diversity Committee last year to specifically examine law enforcement and transit operations. The committee released a report recommending changes for the city Thursday.

The council established the panel in June 2012 with a goal to “establish an ad hoc committee to study city operations as they relate to minority populations with a view toward promoting just and harmonious interaction between local government and minority segments of the community.”

The resolution passed with the provision that the Diversity Committee would dissolve on March 10 following its report, unless the council took further action.

Kingsley Botchway, the head of the panel, said the responsibility for change falls on both the city and the community.

“Even if you see the city use the recommendations, it doesn’t matter if there’s no community accountability and oversight,” he said. “Both things have to happen.”

The committee found that citizens were unaware of their rights, as well as police-review procedures, and that they also had some concerns about the actions of police officers in the city.

The committee recommends the city increase awareness of the Police Citizens’ Review Board with distribution of literature and videos through city channels, as well as changing the structure of the board. Finally, the committee recommends changing the name to the Citizens’ Police Review Board.

The committee also took issue with the response to minority issues, saying that the Police Department is functioning under a “control and monitor” approach to dealing with minority citizens, leading to mutual feelings of distrust.

City Councilor Connie Champion said the concerns were valid.

“It’s all about community policing,” she said. “It’s a matter of getting more police in neighborhoods and getting [citizens and police] to understand each other. Unfortunately, we don’t have enough to get them all out there.”

Citizens also raised concerns about public transportation, including the lack of Sunday transit, limited Saturday service, and general availability of buses.

The committee recommended the city assess Sunday options, as well as expand times on Saturdays and increase the starting times for weekdays.

However, Champion thinks expansion on weekends isn’t feasible.

“We’ve tried the Sunday service in the past, and it hasn’t been used very much,” she said. “It’s not that I don’t support [those concerns]; there’s just no money, and these things have to support themselves to a certain extent.”

The committee ended up looking into issues beyond its initial scope, including housing and city employment.

“There were concerns [raised] beyond transportation and law enforcement,” Iowa City Clerk Marian Karr said. “The committee noted those concerns but didn’t make recommendations.”

The City Council will now decide whether to set up another panel, with a scheduled discussion on April 9.

Two city councilors said the role of the Diversity Committee has been fulfilled. Further action will require a new committee.

“We should continue to address these issues, but other areas need a separate committee,” Botchway said. “An entirely new committee lets us have new faces, ideas, and perspectives.”

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