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Editorial: Rebuilding trust in local justice

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | FEBRUARY 06, 2015 5:00 AM

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In November 2014, area residents made their voices heard loud and clear in the voting booth. For a third-consecutive time, the referendum for a Johnson County Courthouse annex failed to pass, unable to reach the super majority needed to build a new facility and improve security measures in the current outdated facility.

The response by voters was interpreted by officials and members of the Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee as dissatisfaction with and distrust of the criminal-justice system in the county.

Because courthouse security still looms as an issue, steps are being taken to repair the local justice system. A problem many view as being the top issue with local law enforcement is the disproportionately high number of minorities who are arrested in comparison with their counterparts.

According to the most recent census, African Americans make up 28 percent of non-traffic arrests in Iowa City, despite composing only 3.3 percent of the population.

This devastatingly stark contrast has prompted the Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee to confront the issue head on, pledging to fund $30,000 to a study that will analyze the relation between race and crime as it pertains to marijuana use and disorderly conduct.

It should be commended that there is something being done in efforts to improve the relations between local law enforcement and local residents. There is an obvious disparity in arrests in Johnson County, and Iowa City specifically, and the awareness of the committee to recognize that trend is crucial.

The county has been put into quite a tough situation — it forced to move on without sufficient security items it needs in the form of more deputies, metal detectors, and surveillance cameras.

If voters in November were protesting the conduct of area law enforcement, they penalized the wrong people; many people in the courthouse are attorneys, judges, and courthouse employees who don’t have any direct responsibility in dealing with the day-to-day conduct of police officers or sheriff’s deputies.

It’s vital for systematic bias to be investigated and looked at by the committee with studies relating to ethnic relations. This is an important first step to renewing the trust of peopole in a system that looks to be flawed from those of us who look at the statistics.

But the wrong people and the wrong employees are being penalized. By voters choosing to not vote “yes” on the proposed annex for the courthouse, they prevented the means for the courthouse to function properly and efficiently for the area it serves.

Nearby Linn County reported that it had confiscated more than 2,000 weapons from people entering its courthouse in the past few years. This is the form of danger that can exist.

The Daily Iowan Editorial Board believes that the proposed $30,000 by the Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee to fund a study to investigate minority contact with police is a good effort toward earning the public’s trust in the justice system. Although it will take much more to repair its image than one study, that something is being done to address the problem is a positive sign.


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