State panel: Lawmakers should ban profiling, report data on race in police stops

By: - October 23, 2020 4:17 pm

A Des Moines woman who was the subject of repeated acts of domestic violence is suing the city’s police department, alleging officers failed to arrest her attacker as required by state law. (Photo courtesy of Des Moines Police Department)

A governor-appointed criminal justice advisory group will call on Iowa lawmakers to ban police officers from discriminating against people based on race or other characteristics, the panel decided Friday.

The criminal justice panel also called for data collection and analysis to look for disparate treatment by officers. Its recommendations will ask lawmakers to enact civil and professional penalties for officers involved in cases where mistreatment is shown. 

Lt. Gov. Adam Gregg chaired the FOCUS Committee on Criminal Justice Reform, which included representatives of the state law enforcement agencies, the NAACP, Urban Dreams and other organizations. 

The panel approved three main recommendations, which will be presented to Reynolds at the Iowa Summit on Justice & Disparities on Oct. 29:

— Require officers to identify and report the race/ethnicity of anyone asked to identify themselves. To avoid issues when an officer has to ask the person’s race, Iowans would be encouraged to voluntarily list their race on their driver’s license data stored an Iowa Department of Transportation database available to officers. The state could consider asking for the information when people register their vehicles, too, the panel suggested. The Legislature should guard the confidentiality of the data, members agreed.

— Charge the state Justice and Community Policing Advisory Board with advising the state on the collection, compilation and public reporting on data involving police stops. An annual report would analyze profiling across the state. Members would include at least one young adult and representatives of the NAACP, Iowa Coalition for Collective Change, the director of the Law Enforcement Academy, and representatives of the state commissions on Latino Affairs, Asian and Pacific Islander Affairs and Native American Affairs. 

— Ban disparate treatment in law enforcement activities, based on a person’s race, creed, color, national origin, ethnicity, sex, gender identity/expression, sexual orientation, physical or mental disability, or other identifiable characteristics. The ban would apply to state and local police. Violations would be the basis for “administrative personnel action against a public safety employee and any civil remedies under state or federal law.” 

“Disparate treatment includes any differential treatment of a person on the basis of individual demographics,” the panel noted. “Detaining an individual, conducting a stop, or any interactions thereafter shall not be based upon the disparate treatment of the individual.”

The recommendations could be considered by lawmakers in the next session of the Legislature. 

“This is just the beginning,” said Betty Andrews, president of the Iowa/Nebraska NAACP. “We’re at a place where these recommendations, if they get passed, will be a huge stride forward for Iowa.”

Gregg said the panel brought together members with different views on some topics. “We have done something that seems impossible in this day and age sometimes — bringing people from all sides together,” Gregg said. The recommendations “will have a huge impact on Iowa’s communities,” he added.

“You want everybody in Iowa to feel like we have a fair system and we also want our recommendations to respect the role that law enforcement plays and that we didn’t put too many burdens on those who have to implement these recommendations,” Gregg said.

Andrews said she had hoped the panel would declare that violations would come under the Iowa Civil Rights Act. Committee members had debated what types of penalties should be applied, but had decided lawmakers should decide. Gregg offered the language on administrative and civil remedies as a compromise. 

The recommendations were adopted unanimously by 12 panel members, with several absent Friday. Among those endorsing the ideas were the leaders of the NAACP, Urban Dreams, the Iowa Law Enforcement Academy and the Iowa Department of Public Safety. 

The panel, appointed by Gov. Kim Reynolds, met for months after widespread protests in the aftermath of the death of George Floyd during an arrest in Minneapolis in which an officer knelt on Floyd’s neck until Floyd died.

Iowa lawmakers passed police reform legislation in June, banning chokeholds and revoking officers’ certifications if they are fired or resign for serious misconduct on the job. 

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Perry Beeman
Perry Beeman

Perry Beeman has nearly 40 years of experience in Iowa journalism and has won national awards for environmental and business writing. He has written for The Des Moines Register and the Business Record, where he also served as managing editor. He also is former editorial director of Grinnell College. He co-authored the recently published book, "The $80 Billion Gamble," which details the lottery-rigging case of Eddie Tipton.