Below is a letter I just sent to The Des Moines Register:
To the editor,
Please consider the following for inclusion in your letters section:
You reported that a Johnston middle school student brought a BB gun to school. (“Student found with BB gun at middle school in Johnston”, 2/11/21) You reported that the school resource officer worked with administrators, “…to secure the student in an isolated area and confiscate the weapon.”, and that, “…the incident is a criminal investigation…” In a Facebook post, the Police Chief stated they will, “…seek to provide the necessary services to the young persons involved,”
This is a good example of over-policing in our schools. When a police officer is on duty at a school they must become involved, and a mistake by a student becomes a criminal investigation. In simpler times the Principal or Advisor would take away the BB gun and call the parents in. The student might be suspended for a few days. The police and media would not be called. All students would be reminded about the school policy against bringing a BB gun or any other “weapon” to school. The kid would never do it again. Let’s just hope that the police and school administrators handle this situation reasonably with the students involved.
I agree with William Cotton’s essay in The Des Moines Register that we must make changes to eliminate systemic racism. (See link below to his essay in the Register.) Here are two specific actions we should take: 1. Eliminate stops by police of vehicles with equipment violations such as broken lights. If appropriate, tickets can be issued by mail against the owner of the vehicle based on videos or photos. This will help eliminate pre-textual stops. 2. Repeal or stop enforcement of laws against the possession of marijuana. It has been clearly established that marijuana possession laws are enforced unequally between black and white people. We have made great progress over time in reducing government-supported racism in our country, but we must continue to eliminate it everywhere we find it.
It may be good for the City of Des Moines to have a policy that, “…requires all city employees to perform their duties without regard to race, ethnicity, gender or other characteristics…”, but that does not replace the need for a anti-racial-profiling policy specifically for the Des Moines Police Department.
For better or for worse, conscious and unconscious bias exist in most human beings. It is in our nature to look for norms, patterns, averages, etc., and to apply what we think we know to our everyday situations. But police officers are rightfully placed in a very special position: we allow them the legal use of force. So, police officers especially need to make sure they treat each person as an individual, presumed innocent, following due process procedures.
In this case, the City of Des Moines should give the Des Moines Police Department clear policy regarding what police officers can and cannot do as it relates of acting on their “feelings” or “hunches” in any given situation. Profiling or pretextual stops based on race should be prohibited. Suggestions by Iowa CCI, the ACLU of Iowa, and the NAACP should be given serious consideration as part of developing the policy.
Link to related articles in The Des Moines Register:
The Des Moines Register recently ran an editorial about how the Iowa State Patrol appears to be targeting out-of-state cars travelling through Iowa to try to find assets to seize using our current civil asset forfeiture laws. (See link below.)
One obvious possible reason why out-of-state cars might be targeted is that it would help keep seized property flowing to law enforcement agencies, while keeping political heat off of this problem. Out-of-state drivers don’t vote in Iowa, and they don’t have an elected Iowa representative to call to complain.
It is clearly unjust that we allow our government to take property from people who are not charged with a crime, and then put the burden of proof on them to prove their innocence in order to get their property back. It is hard to believe that this does not violate both our Iowa and U.S. Constitutional right to due process. Also, in many cases, law enforcement agencies get to keep the property that they confiscate! This clear conflict of interest should not be tolerated.
Last year in the Iowa Legislature, a bill was introduced in the Iowa Senate that would have put a stop to this injustice, but it never got out of committee. The Senate Judiciary Committee chair, Steven Sodders of State Center, never acted on the bill, so it died in committee. He is a deputy sheriff in Marshall County. If you would like to see end to civil asset forfeiture in Iowa, contact Senator Sodders and let him know we need and expect his help this year.
Today, the Des Moines Register reported on the decision by the grand jury in Polk County to not indict the Des Moines police officer who shot an unarmed man. (8/27/2015 – “No charges against D.M. officer” – see link below) You reported that the prosecutor, Polk County Attorney John Sarcone, said, “This was the eighth fatal police shooting reviewed by a Polk County grand jury since 2007, all of which ended with jurors choosing not to indict.”
Since the grand jury process is highly secret, we don’t know what facts or arguments were presented to the grand jury. With what we do know, it is hard to imagine that there should be no charges whatsoever brought against the officer.
The prosecutor and the police depend on having a trusting and friendly relationship. Because of this relationship, the prosecutor clearly has conflict of interest . The prosecutor could quite easily have a significant bias towards not indicting police officers. Actually, that is why we have the grand jury system – to have the decision whether or not to indict be made by unbiased citizens. But the system is flawed. The entire process is secret, and is led by the prosecutor. It is not difficult to imagine that the prosecutor could exert significant influence on the grand jury to not indict, and then be off the hook politically because he did not make the decision. Did that happen in this case? We will never know because of the secrecy of the process.
We should either make the process public and transparent, or get rid of the grand jury system for police shootings.