Black Lives Matter: Say Their Names

A Black Lives Matter protest and march in West Des Moines, Iowa, following the murder of George Floyd who was killed by former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin.

The second panel session of “Taking the Lead 2020” was conducted via a Zoom call Thursday night. 

“Taking the Lead 2020” was created following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Floyd, a Black man, was asphyxiated by former Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin. 

The event was sponsored by the Ames NAACP, led by President Edna Clinton, with the intent of proving that “policing in Ames, Iowa, is consciously, moment by moment, giving priority to protect and serve all in its truest sense of the words.” 

“As you listen tonight, I encourage you to pause,” Clinton said before beginning the event. “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.”

This week's panel consisted of Iowa State Police Deputy Chief Carrie Jacobs, Ames Police Commander Geoff Huff and Story County Sheriff Paul Fitzgerald. Iowa State Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion Reginald Stewart moderated the event. 

Questions for the panel were submitted via the NAACP website. 

Prior to beginning, Stewart brought up a point of clarification he had received in an email from Iowa State’s Students Against Racism. He emphasized his “ability to convey the emotion behind the question” is compromised due to the virtual format, and implored panelists to be able to view the questions as coming from a place of frustration and emotion.  

Panelists introduced themselves and their positions before Stewart started asking the user-submitted questions. 

The first question was in regards to people who make unsolicited phone calls and reports to the police based on a personal bias.

A recent example of this situation occurred in May, when a woman in Central Park called 911 making false claims about a Black man

All three panelists said they make an effort to distinguish when a call may or may not be warranted, and to ask the caller additional questions about the behavior as opposed to the person. If possible, officers also try to follow up with the caller after the fact. 

Panelists were also asked about the possibility of nonviolent and financial crimes, such as the crimes of George Floyd and Eric Garner, being handled over the phone or through an online reporting system so as to avoid initiating unnecessary violence.  

Commander Huff answered that because of COVID-19, the Ames Police Department has been trying to limit face-to-face interaction. 

“We’re starting to work more in that arena now," Huff said. "So, that is one of the things that we’re looking at — what can we do to improve upon our online reporting. Though people do expect an officer to have a face-to-face interaction, so while we may utilize phone calls, text messages and other ways to get more information, it’s no replacement for having an officer on scene where they can interview witnesses, and in some cases collect statements or evidence.”

The third question brought up the ACLU finding Iowa has the fifth highest racial disparity in the country of arrests of Black people for marijuana offenses, Stewart asked what the agencies are doing to address these disparities.

Huff said the question goes deeper than just the numbers.

“To be honest, we need to understand why there’s a 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?”

The next question asked if the agencies have policies in place that ban racial profiling.

Deputy Chief Jacobs and Commander Huff both said their departments do have anti-bias policies and consequences reach up to and including termination.

Sheriff Fitzgerald said the Story County Sheriff's Department does not have an anti-bias policy but instead opts for a code of conduct that all officers are taught and expected to uphold.  

“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, deescalation, mental health response and first aid, stress management, compassion fatigue, decision-making and 21st century policing.”

Stewart next asked the panelists to explain whether they think there could be unintended consequences of getting rid of qualified immunity, such as good officers leaving the job or more stress for officers on the job.  

“I think that regardless of whether or not qualified immunity exists, number one it is there to protect both sides," Jacobs said. "Number two, individuals who go into this profession for the right reasons are going to continue to stay with the profession, regardless of what’s going on out there and we love to be held accountable for our actions. We came into this profession to make a difference. Not only to make a difference but to be a difference.”

The final questions were in regard to a national conversation about diverting/defunding the police and abolishing policing as it currently exists.  

Jacobs answered that the Iowa State Police Department without a doubt supports the funding of other community services so they can go out and respond to the needs of the community. The Iowa State Police Department has diversified their department, adding services for mental health response and a sexual assault response team that works with victims, without necessarily having to involve law enforcement.

Huff answered by saying policing is already starting to change. 

“I think it’s not so much about defunding the police as it is funding other social services so that they can be better partners with law enforcement and with the community,” he said.

Huff also announced the development of a new drug diversion program. 

“There’s an exciting new thing that’s coming, a drug diversion program that we recently got federal funding for," Huff said. "Instead of arresting people that have drug and alcohol problems, we’re going to divert them directly from the criminal justice system, hopefully before jail, and get them in treatment where they get help, instead of jail.”

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 College of Design.

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