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Preventing the over-policing of people of color

In the wake of George Floyd’s killing by a Minneapolis police officer, we’ve been asked what training and procedures the North Liberty Police Department has in place to help prevent the over-policing of people of color in our own community. This post provides a high-level overview of current training, policies and procedures. There is, of course, work still to do, and it’s important for our community to hold conversations and itself accountable.

Use of force
Every incident that results in someone in our care/custody/control that results in the complaint of pain, sustains a visible injury, known to cause injury, and we include even pointing of a firearm at an individual, is documented on a separate use-of-force report by every member that went hands-on or pointed a firearm at an individual. The on-scene supervisor is made aware (if they are not already on scene). This incident is reported to the lieutenant and then it is assigned to a separate, not-involved sergeant, to start the review. The review includes all radio traffic, body and in-car video camera, officer’s narrative reports, photographs of any injuries, GPS of vehicles, and any statements by the offender/subject/witnesses on scene. The investigation is forwarded to the lieutenant for another review and then forwarded to the chief. At each step, the reviewer is to make sure our mission, values, policies, procedures and training and compliance are followed and lawful in these situations. If there is an issue, then that is addressed with the involved parties, that might include an internal investigation with discipline resulting in and up to termination. These are reviewed yearly to see if we need to change or modify any training or policies or if we recognize any trends. Most, if not all of these cases result in some sort of criminal charges. All of the evidence (photos, narratives/reports, and audio and video recordings) are forwarded outside of this department to the county attorney and defense attorney for review. If it ends up being prosecuted this will be before a judge/jury to review.

Every complaint made to the police department is followed-up and reviewed. Every formal written complaint is investigated and a written response is provided back to the complainant. These are also much like the use of force review and we verify that the mission of this department, our values, policies, police procedures and lawful actions are being followed. The complaint and the findings are also forward to the city administrator and city attorney.

We do not just have a policy book on the shelf that we do not refer to. We have an updated best practices manual. These are updated every six months with the legal changes through Lexipol. This not only tracks all reviews, changes and compliance, but also the officers’ acknowledgment of the polices that they have read, reviewed and understood. Along with this, we have daily training bulletins of real situations/scenarios, the actual policy itself, how our policy applies, and then a follow-up question to make sure there is comprehension. We have this training daily and they cover all topics in our policy manual. These scenarios are thought-provoking and discussed when we have briefings.

We hire for character and train for competence. Especially following the core values of our department to create our police culture.

Outside of the 560 hours of the basic academy training and the annual in-service requirements, we exceed the state’s minimum training requirements. We have access to online training webinars on force, de-escalation, critical incident skills and all officers have attended the 40-hour Critical Intervention training. We also get to practice this skill daily. We have sent and trained not only our frontline officers on use of force, constitutional policing, implicit bias and handling critical incidents, we have trained our sergeants to investigate and review these events. For any of our in-service training, our instructors have to complete lesson plans spelling out the objective, policies covered and the learning principles to the chief before the training. Afterward, the instructor and officer/student have to provide a review/evaluation of the training. Each member sent to training have to come back and reflect on our current practices and if there are any inconsistencies with any policies and procedures that need to be reviewed. We also subscribe to Police One, Force Science newsletter, Lexipol tips, Daigle Law Group, Caliber Press, Public Agency Training Council, Chief’s Association, Americans for Effective law enforcement, and the Police Executive Research Forum to make sure we are in the know with the daily communications of professional and constitutional policing.

We have an early-warning system that is reviewed every six months with red flags that require training, discussion and follow-up with employees if they got flagged. This not only includes damaged property, complaints, biased policing and use of force, but other areas like being named in a lawsuit, tardy or other disciplinary issues. We have a three-month extensive field training program for all new hires that are evaluated every day for their performance, attitude and skills. We have our annual evaluations for all employees to make sure they are meeting the expectations of our department. If employees are not meeting standards, we use a performance improvement plan to help them succeed and we are not afraid to cut ties with a recruit or an officer that is not meeting our standards. We have one supervisor per shift and they lead by example with the frontline officers. They also train, counsel and discipline their subordinates. We hold ourselves and our employees to high standards and we know there are bad cops out there. We have these standards in place with the hope to keep them out of NLPD.
And because she believes in all of these measures, Chief Venenga is also appointed to the Iowa Law Enforcement Academy Council at the recommendation of the Iowa Police Chief’s Association. Not only does she get to help decide how recruits are trained and our state standards, but she is also a voting member for decertifying any officer that tarnishes the badge in the State of Iowa. We are and should be held to a high standard.
We also encourage those with more questions on what departments are doing to attend the citizen police academy that is held annually. This is a good look at all of our police practices as well as our neighboring agencies in Johnson County because we cannot be effective without the support from our community. Additional questions are welcome. The police department’s records division can provide copies of policies, and Chief Diane Venenga, City Administrator Ryan Heiar and Mayor Terry Donahue are available by phone or email. Records can be reached at records@northlibertyiowa.org or 319-626-5724, Chief Venegna can be reached at dvenenga@northlibertyiowa.org or 319-626-5724, City Administer Heiar can be reached at rheiar@northlibertyiowa.org or 319-626-5700 and Mayor Donahue can be reached at mayor@northlibertyiowa.org or 319-626-3774.