Editorial: Strengthen community policing in Iowa City


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Police accountability has been a hot topic issue recently because of the seemingly rampant problem of excessive force used by police and the resulting loss of life, generally that of minorities.

The shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown at the hands of white police Officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri, and the subsequent protests exemplify the public uneasiness with the manner in which law enforcement has conducted itself. What the nation saw was the ability for law enforcement to callously take the life of an unarmed teenager, and in doing so law enforcement has seen the public perception of its humanity diminish.

Some have begun to see the police as soldiers deployed to regulate their fellow citizens. Fear stems from an increase in police militarization corresponding with an apparent decrease in accountability. A divide is beginning to form between the community and those entrusted with the responsibility of protecting it.

In order to bridge this gap and circumvent misconduct by law enforcement, many areas are pushing for community policing as a way for the citizens to play an active role in the operation of law enforcement. The Department of Justice created the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services in 1994, focusing on the involvement of citizens in the design, implementation, and evaluation of law-enforcement programs to “proactively address the immediate conditions that give rise to public safety issues such as crime, social disorder, and fear of crime.”

Implementing community policing has shown to have numerous benefits, including an increase in overall satisfaction with police work. According to the results of a 2014 study in the Journal of Experimental Criminology, “community-oriented programs were found to be effective in almost 80 percent of the cases” as well as citizens being “40 percent more likely to be satisfied with the work of the police.” A correlation is shown between public attitude toward the police and the ability for the police to carry out their duties effectively.

Giving the citizens a means to directly hold the police accountable for their actions encourages a culture of transparency, and as a result, the rebuilding of trust. Iowa City has a program called the Citizens Police Review Board that is dedicated to the investigation of alleged police misconduct; it is composed of five members appointed by the City Council. While the board has no authority over the police, its very existence promotes the idea of citizen involvement in law-enforcement policy as opposed to the traditional separatist roles of police and citizen. The city also offers an online “beat map,” which shows the officers assigned to different neighborhoods throughout the day.

But we can do more. What the findings show is that when there is a healthy dialogue between the police and those under their jurisdiction, tensions are relieved and distrust is mitigated. When community members believe they are being persecuted at the hands of the officials in charge of protecting them, it creates a cycle of animosity. If the people don’t trust the police, the police won’t trust the people, and this is where we see the roots of the shoot-first mentality that reveals an underlying mistrust and fear of the very people they are sworn to protect. While Iowa City is certainly no Ferguson, the Daily Iowan Editorial Board believes the city’s residents and the police can build a stronger partnership. The role of law enforcement is to protect the people and maintain order. This requires trust, empathy, and honesty, all of which can be fostered through the expansion of community policing.

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