Policing Issues Questionnaire for the 2020 Iowa City Police Chief Finalists
As you might have heard, following the February 24, 2020 retirement of Chief Jody Matherly, the City of Iowa City launched a recruitment process for the position of Police Chief. We are now in the final stages of this process, and also in the first and the only stage where the feedback from the public at large is accepted.
While the finalists' resumes, the Step 3 questionnaire responses, and the socially distanced “meet and greet” held by the City on August 24 in Mercer Park allowed some of us to gain more insight about the candidates, by and large, their positions on many important issues remain to be unknown.
The questionnaire below aims to bridge this gap. ICPD Watch asked all of the three Police Chief finalists to answer these questions to the degree they feel compelled to answer them.
Here are their responses:
Questions and Answers
What would be your priorities for funds allocation within the ICPD budget if the money allocated to the ICPD by the City Council were to be cut by 50%? What roles and training will you continue in the face of reduced funding, and what proactive efforts do you expect to develop?
A 50% reduction in funding would be catastrophic to the Iowa City Police Department and more importantly to the residents of Iowa City. As police chief, I would likely be forced to abandon important initiatives such as community engagement programs and community liaison positions and reevaluate the types of calls we are able to answer. It is likely that we would be forced to focus solely on handling priority 911 calls. Such a drastic cut in funding may even mean having to discontinue the use of body worn cameras and slash the training budget, as both are very costly to most police departments. These are all programs and initiatives that make communities safer and help build trust in law enforcement. Moves to defund the police are misguided. Police departments across the country that have been forced to blindly slash budgets without any research or forethought are already experiencing significant spikes in violent crime and some are already regretting their decisions. (See: https://news.yahoo.com/black-leaders-call-nypd-bring-154707836.html). The ironic part is that the neighborhoods most affected by increased crime rates are the same neighborhoods that the defund movement was intended to help. Police departments must have a seat at the table when these discussions are taking place. There are ways to improve police services, but BETTER policing is the answer – not LESS policing. You cannot defund police departments then complain that you are not getting the level of service you expect. Quality policing requires funding top notch training, equipment, and technology.
As you likely know, the vast majority of the ICPD budget is dedicated to staffing. A 50% budget reduction would result in the same reduction in staffing. This would also result in a reduction in training which I feel is the wrong approach at this moment. I have an extensive background in law enforcement training and I know that quality training is not cheap. In my opinion, a 50% budget reduction would result in a public safety crisis. It certainly would not be a situation that I would consider moving my family into.
What is your opinion on the “War on Drugs”?
I do not think we should be wasting time on making arrests for small amounts of marijuana, but I have seen the devastating effects of drugs like heroin, methamphetamine, and crack cocaine. While I believe in continuing to enforce drug laws pertaining to those harder drugs, I do not necessarily believe sending people to jail on possession charges is the answer. I would rather see programs in place that offer users an opportunity to get help and turn their lives around. Anytime we can help someone break the cycle of addiction and stop using drugs rather than arresting them, it’s a win. I do believe that those who manufacture and distribute drugs should be prosecuted.
What is your view on the role of the Community Police Review Board in investigating citizen complaints about police misconduct? In your opinion, should a police review board be given independent investigatory power and an authority to issue binding disciplinary action mandates?
I am a believer in civilian police oversight but those placed in oversight roles must be properly trained/certified and have an understanding of best practices in policing in order for their oversight board to be viewed as legitimate. I do believe that a legitimate police oversight board should have investigatory power, but I also believe that the disciplinary decisions should rest with the Chief of Police. If a police chief continually refuses to hold his/her officers accountable for misconduct, then that chief should be held accountable.
What is your opinion on police presence in schools in general and relying on police to maintain discipline in schools in particular? Are there situations when school-based arrests for nonviolent offenses, such as disruptive behavior are warranted?
I believe having School Resource Officers (SRO’s) can be a powerful relationship-building tool but the officers must be carefully selected and properly trained. Further, their purpose should be to serve as guardians and mentors first, and in an enforcement capacity only when absolutely necessary. SRO’s should not be used for random locker searches or to act as hall monitors. Those duties should fall to school staff with police officers intervening only when called upon to do so. When used properly, SRO’s can serve as mentors to young people and will serve as the first line of defense in the event of an active shooter. (See: http://www.newsoforange.com/news/article_ff371978-6323-11e6-a511-838e02fa60ae.html).
Our community is severely segregated, with the majority of poor, low-income individuals (the majority of whom are also Black) concentrated in a few neighborhoods. Under your leadership, what will the Iowa City Police Department do to alleviate the devastating effects of this segregation, reduce violence in these neighborhoods, and build better relationships with their residents?
I am a big believer in police-community partnerships when it comes to both engagement and enforcement efforts. Transparency is key and I have had the most success when coordinating our efforts with the input from community stakeholders. When it comes to violence reduction, it is imperative that we use data and intelligence to determine who are the drivers of violent crime in our communities and focus our efforts on those individuals, rather than over-policing the community. In addition to enforcement efforts, we must also build relationships with residents in underserved areas so they trust our intentions when we are patrolling their streets. When residents trust us, we see greater cooperation, which leads to our being able to solve and prevent more crimes. One of my biggest passions is working with youth in the community to build relationships rooted in trust. I developed a youth engagement program in Pittsburgh and would love to do the same in Iowa City. (See: https://www.post-gazette.com/local/city/2019/03/15/Hands-down-lets-talk-Pittsburgh-police-Homewood-tensions-engagement-sessions/stories/201903150096)
What is your stance on citizens’ right to photograph or film the police? What are the situations when it’s appropriate to prohibit these activities? What are the situations when it’s appropriate to detain or arrest citizens engaging in these activities?
Citizens have every right to film the police so long as doing so does not prevent the officers from doing their job. In Pittsburgh, we are used to being filmed every day, and on the majority of our calls. It has essentially become a part of the job. However, those filming should understand the difficulties that officers face trying to manage a chaotic scene and take care to film from a safe distance so as not to interfere with the incident.
Do you believe excessive use of physical force in the day-to-day course of police encounters with citizens is a problem worth addressing? If so, how would you monitor and address this issue?
Let me be clear on this – excessive force is unacceptable. Officers who engage in unethical or illegal conduct should be disciplined or terminated. However, I do not believe the use of excessive force is running rampant in most police departments. Often the media paints all police with a broad brush – as racist and aggressive. In reality, the vast majority of cops are ethical, fair, and do the right thing every day. There are 800,000+ police officers in the United States that have approximately 55,000,000 citizen contacts annually. Statistically, force is used in less than 1% of all encounters. Excessive force occurs in just a fraction of that 1%. Use-of-force experts have even suggested that we are now seeing officers injured because they are not using enough force, likely out of a fear of being sued. Regarding monitoring of officers, I am a proponent of body worn cameras. I believe every uniformed officer should wear them and they should be activated at all times when officers encounter citizens. I would ensure supervisors conduct random audits of the camera system to ensure officers are acting in accordance with our policies. Additionally, supervisors will conduct field checks on officers (actually showing up on calls) to ensure their officer are performing appropriately out in the street. When officers act in a manner inconsistent with our values, they will be held accountable.
According to the 2015 St. Ambrose study, minority drivers in Iowa City were about twice as likely to be arrested during a traffic stop as were white & Asian drivers, and police officers were about twice as likely to request a voluntary search not based on probable cause from a minority driver as from others. What specific measures will you take as the police chief to address this problem?
Effective leadership is key when it comes to ensuring officers are treating all citizens equally out in the street. Sergeants and lieutenants must review reports, car camera footage, and body camera footage to ensure officers are policing in an equitable and ethical manner. Use of an early warning system can also assist police supervisors by flagging officers in certain categories such as search & seizure and use-of-force. When an officer is flagged, it would require the supervisor to investigate the reason for the disparity. Officers who engage in biased policing would face retraining, discipline, or termination, depending on the seriousness of the offense.
Iowa has the fifth-worst rate of racial disparities in arrests for marijuana possession in the country. Specifically in Johnson County, a black person is about five times more likely to be arrested for drug possession than a white person, even though studies show that the two races use illicit drugs at roughly the same rates. What specific measures will you take as the police chief to address this problem?
As stated previously, I am not a fan of enforcement for marijuana possession. Please see my previous answer related to drug enforcement.
In your opinion, should local police take part in immigration enforcement? Why?
Absolutely not. Our goal as the police is to ensure that our residents, ALL of our residents, feel safe calling 911. If we have individuals who are scared to call for help for fear of deportation, that’s a problem.
In your opinion, should police take part in evictions? Why?
No. The only time we should ever be involved in evictions would be when a landlord, sheriff, or constable calls for assistance for a situation that has turned violent and someone is in danger.
If the Iowa City Code and/or Charter were amended to ask the police to cite low-level drug offenses such as possession of small amounts of marijuana as civil infractions punishable by a fine (similarly to Section 16.2 of Ann Arbor’s City Charter), would you pursue these offenses according to the will of Iowa City residents?
Absolutely. In Pittsburgh, officers are permitted to write tickets for marijuana. This helps prevent non-violent possessors of a small amount of marijuana from getting a criminal record and it keeps officers from having to spend hours completing arrest paperwork and packaging evidence. It’s a win-win.
What is your stance on the practice of extending traffic stops to allow for external inspection of the vehicle by a K-9 unit? How would you address a complaint that Iowa City police engage in this practice?
If an officer has probable cause or reasonable suspicion that drugs or weapons may be in a vehicle, then I support calling for a K-9. I do not support officers using the K-9 as a tool on every traffic stop in the hopes that maybe they find something. As with everything else in policing, decisions should be reasonable and measured.
What’s your opinion on civil asset forfeiture? What constitutes acceptable use of civil asset forfeiture?
If someone is making money by committing criminal acts, then I support pursuing the seizure of those funds through the court system. Specifically, I am referring to the trafficking of illegal narcotics and firearms. I am not sure if you are asking about other forfeiture, but if you are a drug dealer you should not be permitted to profit from your illegal activity.
In your opinion, what are the responsibilities of police officers in situations involving mental illness, developmental disability, or emotionally disturbed persons?
Currently, police officers in most departments are the frontline responders for these types of calls. Some of these officers are amazing when it comes to dealing with mental illness. Other officers, not so much. I would like to see the adoption of a co-responder program where mental health and/or addiction specialists are on staff and respond with officers to these types of calls. This model allows for mental health calls to be handled in the safest manner possible for everyone involved. If the person in crisis is calm and cooperative, then the co-responder with a degree and expertise in the that area would take the lead. If the person in crisis is violent or acting out, then the police officer would be available to intervene and ensure the co-responder is safe.
In your opinion, what is the role of police officers with regard to the homeless population? Is there a particular framework you would apply when responding to a situation involving a homeless person?
Please see my comments above on the use of a co-responder program. I believe this would also work well for issues concerning persons experiencing homelessness.
What’s your stance on the nuisance ordinances (aka “disorderly house ordinances”) that label a property as a nuisance when it is the site of a certain number of calls for police or alleged nuisance conduct?
Nuisance property ordinances are good in theory but are often difficult to enforce. I think there is potential to make this work but it must be a collaborative effort between police, city officials, and community leaders. Most importantly, there must be clear criteria established, a reliable tracking system, and a means to hold people accountable. If any of those pieces are missing, the ordinance will be useless.
When police misconduct has occurred, how do you respond to the corresponding public complaint(s) and restore trust in the community?
In all matters, internal and external, transparency is essential. Internally, staff have a right to know why decisions are made. Externally, the public wants and needs to know that we have their best interest in mind. Transparency builds trust. This is especially true in cases of misconduct. It is important to get in front of the issue and address it quickly. If, after a thorough and impartial investigation, an officer is found to have acted unethically or outside of policy or the law, then I would take appropriate action. I stress thorough and impartial because far too often we judge officers based on a 10 second video clip we see on the news – a clip that does not even come close to telling the whole story. However, if the investigation shows misconduct, there must be consequences. As with transparency, accountability builds trust. The reason for much of the current backlash against the police is due to the real and/or perceived lack of consequences when police act inappropriately. “No comment” is the worst comment a police department can make. I would keep the public informed on the progress of an investigation as well as the results, to whatever extent the law permits.
What is your stance on police body cameras? In your opinion, what are the most important aspects of the police body cameras’ policy?
Please see my earlier response to this question.
In your opinion, is police militarization a topic of concern?
Please see below.
Do you believe military-grade equipment such as MRAPs has a place in the police toolbox? If so, what constitutes acceptable use of such equipment (please use MRAP as an example)?
Yes, I absolutely believe vehicles like the MRAP have a place in civilian policing. It is a life-saving tool that can quickly and effectively remove innocent civilians from the line of fire during an active-shooter situation and can safely move police officers from one point to another so they can rescue innocent bystanders or get to the location of a potential threat. Police departments should not be patrolling the streets in these vehicles on a daily basis and to be honest I don’t know of any department that uses these vehicles for that purpose. They are used to serve high-risk search warrants and for hostage/barricaded persons/active shooter situations. They are designed to keep people safe, nothing more. These vehicles are not assaultive vehicles like military tanks and they do not have weapons mounted on them. I was one of the first responders to the Tree of Life massacre in Pittsburgh and was laying on the ground as rifle rounds flew past me. Officers were shot and bleeding in the street and their police cars offered no protection against that type of firepower. Thankfully, we have an MRAP-style vehicle in Pittsburgh and I was never so thankful to see that thing roll up to a scene as I was that day. If departments are forced to give up these valuable tools, it will ultimately place more police officers and more innocent civilians in harm’s way during a critical incident. Other military-grade equipment such as grenades and rocket-launchers clearly have no place in civilian policing. When reference is made to “military-grade equipment,” it is important that we know exactly what equipment people are talking about.
If so, what constitutes acceptable use of such equipment (please use MRAP as an example)?
What is your opinion on no-knock warrants? What constitutes acceptable use of no-knock warrants?
No-knock warrants should be banned. The only time it is acceptable to enter a residence without announcing ourselves is in a crisis situation where the life of a hostage is at risk.
What is your opinion of police surveillance of social media? What is a legitimate scenario for employing social media surveillance in police work?
Police should not randomly be spying on citizens as a matter of daily practice. However, when we have specific information that someone has committed or is in the business of committing criminal acts, social media can be a powerful tool. For example, our detectives received information that an individual was carrying an illegal firearm and selling drugs from a house. All we had to go on was the person’s name and his Instagram handle, so we started following him on Instagram. A few days into the investigation, the suspect posted a picture of himself holding an assault rifle while standing on the porch of a house. Our detectives recognized the house and were eventually able to secure a search warrant and recover the illegal gun and the drugs. In this case, I believe the use of social media was perfectly acceptable. Had we not been proactive about monitoring the suspect’s social media account, that gun would likely have been used in a shooting. Using social media to surveil someone for non-criminal activity, such as their political beliefs, is not acceptable.
What is your opinion on the use of Stingray devices (aka “cell site simulators”) and “tower dumps” in police work? What is a legitimate scenario for deploying such a device/tactic?
I am not familiar with these devices.
What’s your stance on the use of facial recognition technologies in law enforcement investigations? What is a legitimate use case for a real-time, street-ready facial recognition system? Would you pursue an implementation of such a system should the opportunity arise?
The ability to utilize facial recognition (FR) to solve crimes is important but routine FR monitoring of citizens going about their daily lives has no place in our society. As with any technology in policing, the use of FR must be implemented judiciously. I envision a policy where, if police obtain the image of a suspect wanted in a crime, they may utilize FR technology to assist them in identifying that individual. For example, a bank security camera captures images of a robber holding up the bank. A still image showing the suspect’s face could then be submitted for facial recognition. This is much more focused and less intrusive than a scenario where we have cameras on public streets identifying everyone walking past.
What’s your stance on the automatic traffic law enforcement devices such as red-light cameras, speed cameras, and automatic license plate recognition systems? Would you pursue an implementation of any of these technologies should the opportunity arise?
Again, as with any technology available to law enforcement, the implementation of red light cameras must be reasonable and done with community engagement and input. The purpose for having red light cameras should be to improve public safety and not to generate money for the city. Personally, I do not feel strongly either way about implementing a red light camera system. However, if one were to be implemented, I would like to see a study showing the top 3-5 most dangerous intersections in Iowa City. We could implement the cameras at those intersections and see if we are able to drive down collisions and pedestrian accidents. If cameras are implemented, their location should be publicized, and signage placed at those intersections to act as a deterrent to speeders. The goal is to make the community safer, not to surprise people with expensive tickets.
Iowa City has seen its fair share of illegal government spying on political activists. Would you make a pledge to not provide resources or any other sort of cooperation to federal agencies such as the FBI for spying on Iowa City residents that are not under active criminal investigation?
The police have no business spying or surveilling anyone who is not a suspect in a crime. As Chief, I would make sure ICPD would play no part in this activity.
What is your stance on the police “code of silence”?
Cops who cover up the misconduct of others would not like working for me. If I found that an officer did engage in a cover-up, I would fire them.
In your opinion, should activities and/or members of groups like Black Lives Matter, Occupy Wall Street, Anonymous, etc. be a subject of heightened police scrutiny? Why/why not?
The name, cause, or type of group should not be a factor in how they are treated by police. The only factor that would heighten police scrutiny of any group would be actionable intelligence that a criminal act was likely or about to occur. Even in that case, groups should be permitted to exercise their First Amendment rights, but additional police resources would be on hand as a precaution. I am a fan of the “out of sight – out of mind” mentality when it comes to additional resources. Whenever possible, I prefer to keep additional resources staged nearby but out of sight to avoid causing anxiety among protest groups. The last thing we want to do is inflame an already tense situation.
In your opinion, what are acceptable crowd control tactics for containment of a citizen protest that has spilled into the streets?
I am a big believer of meeting with protest groups ahead of an event to learn the goals and objectives of the group. In my personal experience, protests go much smoother when there is a mutual understanding of what is going to occur. If a group wants to gather at an intersection, hold speeches for an hour, then march to a specific location using a designated route, it makes it easier for everyone and helps police ensure their safety and block streets if we have this information ahead of time. It also allows us to ensure adequate resources are on hand to safely handle the event. We are able to notify the public that a protest or rally will be taking place and offer detours ahead of time to help ease traffic and reduce the risk of road rage incidents. As a general rule, I do not believe in arresting people or using force on individuals simply for blocking traffic, especially if we know this is going to occur ahead of time and we can assist in re-routing traffic. What becomes problematic is when there is no communication, when critical intersections are blocked (entrances to hospitals, fire stations, interstates, etc), or when an event turns violent. I will bend over backwards to support peaceful protests but cannot allow violence or property damage to occur. Everyone has a right to peaceful protest but nobody has a right to destroy property or injure others to get their message across.
In your opinion, what are the situations that call for police use of riot gear and weaponry, such as tactical vests, full-body suits, ballistic and tactical shields, batons, pepper spray, tear gas, rubber bullets, etc.?
For peaceful protests, riot gear should be accessible but left out of sight unless and until it is needed. In Pittsburgh, we usually have an equipment vehicle at a nearby staging area with all necessary protective gear. If the protest remains peaceful, then the participants don’t have to worry about the intimidation factor of seeing officers in riot gear. If a protest has turned violent or if we have intelligence that leads us to believe that there may be violence at an event, I have a duty to ensure my officers are protected. I would not send officers to a violent protest without protective gear, which includes helmets with face shields, chest protection, arm and leg pads, and a baton. How officers appear at a protest (soft gear vs. hard gear) is a decision I would make based on information presented to me about that particular protest. Pepper spray and throwable gas canisters are considered the lowest level of force police can use to disperse a crowd after they have given ample warnings to disperse. These tools would only be used after multiple warnings were given and in conjunction with incident command. No officer would be permitted to independently make the decision to use gas unless there was an imminent threat to their safety. As for rubber bullets, we would not use them.
What is your opinion on the use of Tasers and stun guns on unarmed citizens, fleeing suspects, and people who are already restrained?
The Taser can be an effective tool in taking a suspect into custody with no lasting effects and without an officer having to resort to a higher level of force, such as baton strikes or the use of a firearm. If an officer has probable cause to make an arrest or is trying to prevent serious bodily injury or death to the subject (such as a suicidal person), the use of the Taser would be warranted. Obviously, it would be situation dependent and I do not condone the use of any weapon on someone who is being compliant. However, for someone who is non-compliant, it is much safer to use a Taser than to get into a physical altercation with the person. Once an officer and a suspect go hands-on with each other, we usually see far worse outcomes. Sometimes we see broken bones, other times a suspect may be able to disarm the officer. Of course, now we also have to deal with the risk of Covid if an officer and suspect are in a tussle. The Taser was designed to safely subdue a non-compliant individual from a distance with little risk of injury to both the officer and the subject. As far as using the Taser on someone in handcuffs, that would only be warranted in a situation where the individual is extremely violent and the officers have no other means of gaining control. It is very rare that I have ever seen the use of a Taser on someone who is handcuffed and any use of a Taser on a handcuffed person would automatically trigger a supervisory review.
A significant number of properties in downtown Iowa City are owned or controlled by the University and thus are under the jurisdiction of the UI Department of Public Safety. While officially “UI Department of Public Safety’s police officers … try to confine their patrol activities to the UI campus and routes in between numerous UI properties”, in practice the UI police officers routinely patrol Iowa City streets and have been caught in the limelight using excessive physical force and disregarding citizens’ civil rights. How do you see ideal cooperation between Iowa City police and the UI Department of Public Safety that preserves the inter-agency collaboration while adhering to the policing standards, procedures, and priorities of the Iowa City police department?
It would be my goal to have a strong working relationship with the University of Iowa DPS leadership so we can address any of these issues as they arise. The key is constant communication and setting mutually agreed-upon boundaries so there is complete clarity in their role when they leave the campus and our role when we are called onto campus.
Will you adjust the department’s policies, practices, and procedures to reflect your views on the aforementioned issues?
I do not make decisions in a vacuum. I would work with the ICPD leadership team and the Iowa City leadership team in making any significant policy changes. Any changes made would be communicated to the Iowa City community so they understand our policies and the reason for any changes. I also believe in posting the majority of our policies online in an effort to be completely transparent with those we serve.
It is impossible for me to commit to any potential policy changes now given my surface-level familiarization with ICPD issues, policies, and procedures. If I do become the ICPD Chief, I will certainly continue the dialogue with your organization as well as all the other stakeholders in the community to determine where there is a need for improvement.
What are the first five things you'll do if you become Iowa City’s next Chief of Police?
- Community town hall meetings with residents.
- Police officer/civilian staff listening sessions.
- A comprehensive review of current policies.
- Assessment of community outreach & engagement programs.
- Develop a “Chief’s Advisory Panel” comprised of community leaders, youth, elected officials, officers, faith leaders, and local business owners.