In the second installation of the Taking The Lead town hall, panel discussions between local leaders and law enforcement addressed police brutality, and local law officials discussed statewide disparities in arrest for minorities as well as policies to prevent racial profiling.
Thursday’s forum included Iowa State University Police Deputy Chief Carrie Jacobs, Ames Police Comdr. Geoff Huff and Story County Sheriff Paul Fitzgerald, and the discussion was moderated by ISU Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion Reginald Stewart.
One of the main topics of discussion revolved around a report from the ACLU which highlighted rampant racial disparities in arrest for black Americans in the state.
According to the ACLU’s national study, a black person is 7.3 times more likely to be arrested than a white person for marijuana possession. That statistic ranks Iowa fifth-worst in the nation in racial disparities for marijuana arrests.
In Story County, the ACLU finds that a black person is 8.1 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than a white person. A statistic that is not lost on Cmdr. Huff.
“To be honest, we need to understand why there’s disproportionality,” Huff said. “So that means we need to take a deep and honest look into our practices, you know, we need to understand why that disproportionality is occurring. Is it bias on the part of the police? Is it a bias on the part of a caller? Are there other factors at work?”
Deputy Chief Jacobs feels the racial disparities in arrests can be improved by officers approach to a situation.
“I think it actually goes back to simply how we’re responding to these calls to begin with,” said Jacobs. “Whether it’s a marijuana call or a suspicious person, we’re there to respond to whatever is going on and regardless of the individual that we are encountering, it is important for us to follow our stated guidelines. “
Jacobs said that officers answering a call should be “courteous and professional,” in identifying the agency they represent. She said that if officers can be consistent in how they approach a call depending on its nature, it can mitigate the trend of racial disparity in particular offenses.
“(Making sure) the violation of the law is not determined by who the person is, their background, or what else may be going on at that time,” she said. “Because it’s important with all calls — particularly these types of calls where there is a disparity — we need to ensure that we are following those guidelines and we are being consistent with how we are treating people. One of the best ways to do that is going to be to do it the same way each time.”
The conversation transitioned into whether local agencies have anti-racial profiling policies.
While ISU Police Department and Ames Police Departments have anti-bias policies in place — which includes termination if an officer violated such policy — and Sheriff Fitzgerald said the Story County Sheriff’s Department does not have an anti-bias policy but adopted a code of conduct that all officers are taught and expected to adhere to.
“No, we do not have a policy directly banning racial profiling,” Fitzgerald said. “However, in 2012, we adopted a value-based code of conduct. Along with that, we do additional training throughout the year — harassment and diversity, appropriate workplace behavior, de-escalation, mental health response and first aid, stress management, compassion fatigue, decision-making and 21st century policing.”
In Des Moines, the city council approved an ordinance banning racial profiling in Iowa’s capital city.
Edna Clinton, president of the Ames chapter of NAACP, hopes the panels encourage reflection and a shared desire for social justice, both locally and nationally.
“Policing in Ames, Iowa, is consciously, moment by moment, giving priority to protect and serve all in its truest sense of the words,” she said. “Remember, nothing changes when we don’t learn, we don’t grow and we don’t share integrity, humility and the desire for social justice.”
The next panel is scheduled for July 9 and will be moderated by Jazzmine Brooks, equity and inclusion coordinator for the Office of Equal Opportunity, and Jordan Brooks, multicultural liaison officer for the the university’s College of Design.