Digital Exclusive: Discussing police reform in Davenport

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Some Davenport residents fear Civil Rights Commission is 'under siege' and 'demolished'

The Davenport Civil Rights Commission held a meeting on Monday night to discuss policing reforms in the City of Davenport. The Commission hosted a panel discussion with area stakeholders on local policing practices and current initiatives, police misconduct, municipal policies and practices that disproportionately impact marginalized groups and proposed reforms.

This meeting comes following a listening session on public opinion on August 1. That meeting resulted in 8 particular topics to be focused on, which could later result in a recommendation(s) to the Davenport City Council to make changes. Those topics are:

  • Reallocation of Funding
  • Safe Housing
  • School Resource Officers
  • Reform Pre-Trial Release Programs
  • Invest in Care, Not Control
  • Decriminalize Survival
  • Demilitarize the Police
  • Decentralize Decision-making

Commissioners, Davenport Mayor Mike Matson, Davenport Police Chief Paul Sikorski, and representatives from local organizations were all involved with the panel discussion on Monday night.

Each person was asked to identify themselves before speaking, but that was not always the case. Those who spoke without identification will all be referred to as “panel member.”

Reallocation of Funding:

The main talking point of this topic was social workers and how they can be used either with the police department or in place of the police department (not complete replacement, just on certain issues).

One panel member said they believe not every call police receive require a gun and could require more counseling. An example given was in the case of a domestic violence situation, a police officer could handle the incident until violence is no longer a threat, and at that point an on-call social worker could be called in to create a more human and softer atmosphere.

It was asked if the Davenport Police Department had any social workers currently on-staff to deal with situations as describe, and Chief Sikorksi said they did not.

Another panel member brought up the idea of having police be trained more intently on dealing with situations that involved people with mental health problems. Commissioner Mike Guster however believed that it would be more beneficial to invest money in social work at an early stage with children who show problematic signs. Instead of money being invested to handle issues as they’re happening, to rather invest money in helping children who are struggling at an early age so they are less likely to become involved in legal trouble later in their life. He suggested that Family Resources could be an organization that can lead mental health programs to help identify kids struggling earlier on.

Commissioner Ruby did point out there is a shortage of mental health professionals within the community and the commission needs to be aware of their work loads and not over-extend Family Resources. However, it’s possible that with more funding could come more hires to help groups with that work load.

Safe Housing:

This was issue was described as something that can turn into a “ripple effect” and destroy people’s lives. Commission Chairman Janelle Swanberg asked the panel if they should encourage city council to increase funding for housing. Commissioner Guster again suggested that Family Resources could be utilized for this issue. He said they’re currently looking at reorganizing their services and could potentially handle some of this. He mentioned it could be possible for them to identify housing as a problem for a person(s) and direct them to whatever department in the city or other organizations that could help provide them with safe housing.

Commissioner Richard Davidson said a huge threat to Safe Housing is the potential of low income housing properties being sold to out-of-state owners that are solely for profit. Those owners could make communication between tenet and owner more difficult and create more expensive low incoming housing. He believes that this is the most important civil rights issue that should be considered right now by the Davenport Civil Rights Commission.

It was questioned where money would come from to potentially increase funding for Safe Housing, and it was suggested that the city could be more aggressive in going after federal funds.

School Resource Officers:

Commissioner Guster begun this topic by bringing up studies that show the School Resource Officer programs have a connection with the kids-to-prison pipeline. If they’re going to be in Davenport schools, their roles need to be clearly examined and defined going forward. He also believes that a the first person a black child sees is a S.R.O. because they, “don’t get the benefit of the doubt” and that studies back up that claim.

Reform Pretrial Release Programs:

These programs refer mainly to the cash-bail system currently in place.

Commission Director Latrice Lacey believes these programs push people further into poverty. Chairman Swanberg agreed saying that whether you’re convicted or not, you’re charged for jail stay. That court debt is not dis-chargeable in bankruptcy and could ruin someone’s life.

There was a question if city council could do much about this issue legally, but they still addressed their concern of it being a problem.

Invest in Care, Not Control:

This topic focused mainly on the idea of decriminalizing marijuana or changing the way that the issue is policed.

While decriminalization of marijuana would have to go through the state legislature, the way it’s policed within the City of Davenport could be revisited and changed.

One panel member brought up how in the August 1 meeting a member of the public informed the group that African-Americans are eight-times more likely to be arrested for marijuana in Davenport than Caucasians. That led this panel member to believe this was more of a policing issue than anything else at this moment.

Commissioner Guster suggested city council should take a look at the current police and see what steps can be taken place to address the issue in the data previous mentioned, including traffic stops and arrest rates.

Decriminalization Survival:

This focused on the issues of drugs, human trafficking, and sex work. A majority of the time was spent on NARCAN Kits, which are used to combat opioid overdoses. Commissioner Director Lacey mentioned that it’s possible that the needles in those kits could be considered illegal drug paraphernalia, despite the fact that they’re legally allowed to have them as long as its being used properly. A panel member suggested people are stopped for having these kits by police, and while they may explain why they have it they could still be consider suspicious by police at that point.

This was considered again to be more of an enforcement issue than a legislation issue.

Demilitarize the Police:

This section of the discussion seemed to be brief compared to others.

One panel member mentioned how a person from the August 1 meeting thought the union for the Davenport Police Department was being defensive and hoped to see more conversation between the police, the commission, and the community to better understand each other.

Decentralize Decision-making:

Multiple issues were discussed under this subject including excessive use of force by police, body-cams, dash-cams, qualified immunity, and having a civilian review board.

Commission members who spoke up believed that some sort of independent review board involving citizens could be a good idea for the City of Davenport.

There was hope to speak with Chief Sikorski during this part of the discussion, but technical issues led to a request to table their input for another day. They did listen to the entire meeting. Commissioners wanted to ask them mainly about body-cam and dash-cam policies, disciplinary actions, and qualified immunity.

Davenport Mayor Matson did call in at the end of the meeting and said the city is committed to working on issues. He also mentioned more training will be done on police officers and government officials on race sensitivity. Chief Sikorski also was able to get on that phone call and answer questions from the commission. Both of their full statements can be listened to below:

This meeting came after a Saturday afternoon protest outside the Davenport Police Department. We asked protesters there what changes they wanted to see from the police.

Local 4 News did call the Davenport Police Department asking for comment on the protests and the Civil Rights Commission meeting three times, but we did not hear back. We also asked the front desk on Saturday while at the protests, and we were told no one was there who could speak to the media.

On Monday afternoon we reached out to the Union of Professional Police who told us they have no comment at this time on the meeting.

The Davenport Civil Rights Commission following public comment agreed that it was best to hold off on recommending anything to city council at this time until they can speak with Davenport Police in more depth and spend time debating the specifics of what those recommendations would be. A special meeting does not currently have a date set.

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