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Toward Equity and Inclusion in Policing

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Kelly Larson
August 2, 2016

In my first quarter article, I highlighted work occurring in Dubuque, Iowa to foster cross-sector collaboration for social sustainability through the development of a community equity profile, strategies and action plans. More recently, I addressed the role of local government in contributing toward these efforts. In today’s article, I would like to focus specifically on local efforts that align with the final report from the President’s Task Force on 21st century Policing.

Collaborative efforts between the City of Dubuque’s Police Department and Human Rights Department began with modifying recruitment practices so that the police force can more accurately reflect the diversity in our community. We’ve adjusted the interview process to include questions that draw out intercultural skill sets. We’ve reduced the weight given to written test scores and have added a component that provides candidates the opportunity to highlight non-cognitive skills, such as the ability to communicate effectively under stress. We’ve partnered with local colleges, including one with a population of 1/3 students of color, where our chief currently teaches a criminal justice course. We’ve also added an intern program that intentionally reaches out to diverse candidates and provides those selected the opportunity to build relationships and learn more about the department. Two of our officers have developed and implemented an intercultural course for new recruits and field training officers focused on relationship building, culture and identity. These efforts have resulted in the successful hiring and retention of skilled officers of color.

Strengthening trust and legitimacy across communities also requires data and policy transparency. In 2014, the chief implemented a new software system that includes a component that will allow the department to track and analyze traffic stops for troubling patterns that may need intervention. Working with the local branch of the N.A.A.C.P. and a nonprofit called 4 the People, Inc., we researched a traffic study conducted by a local college in two nearby communities. As a result, we are now in the process of soliciting proposals to conduct a similar study in Dubuque. In addition, funding for body cameras has been obtained. Policy governing their use is under review, with the inclusion of community members.

Civilian oversight is an important component of our efforts as well. This past year, we revisited and updated a memorandum of understanding between the City of Dubuque and the local branch of the N.A.A.C.P. that was originally signed in 1993. The agreement creates a panel consisting of civilian and police members charged with hearing complaints of discrimination against police officers and offering recommendations for discipline and, equally important, for policy and practices adjustments.

Most recently, the chief developed a pilot program called COR3E – Communities Organized for Respect, Reconciliation, Resiliency and Equity. “Communities” refers to the unique communities that exist within the larger city in which we live. He gathered representatives from as many communities as he could identify including African-American, Hispanic/Latino, White, Marshallese, African, Asian, Middle-Eastern, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, mental health advocates and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ).

puzzle-1152795_640While the chief is the convener, he is not in charge. The group works through consensus. They began by developing a list of what group members are seeking from one another in terms of police-community relations. The group then modeled “respect” through a process where each community presented on the history of conflicts and successes faced by their group in society, in our city and with police. Group members also openly support each other’s events. Through it all, the group continues to “reconcile” individual biases, culturally learned behaviors and systemic barriers in hopes of demonstrating “resiliency” in the face of tragic or divisive events. Finally, comes the focus on “equity” and ongoing education to distinguish between opportunity, equality, and equity and the development of alternatives in line with the future we want to create.

While all of this work is a crucial component to progress, much of what drives conflict and causes it to escalate begins well before law enforcement becomes involved and expands beyond the individuals with whom we can successfully build relationships. Indeed, government alone cannot be the sole actor in prevention. The entire community must work together to address the deeper racial inequities that exist across all major indicators of success in our society.

As the chief aptly stated, “We cannot arrest our way out of these problems.” A focus on authentic relationships, coupled with informed research informed and data driven accountability, is what will ultimately determine the success or failure of our efforts. It is a task that requires the best that each of us has to offer.


Author: Kelly Larson serves as the human rights director for Dubuque, Iowa. She has degrees in psychology and law from the University of Iowa and an intercultural professional certificate from the Institute on Intercultural Communication. She can be reached at [email protected]

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