Trust, understanding and arrests

March 28, 2014 | 12:54 pm

The Gazette Editorial Board

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Earlier this month, Iowa City Council members were handed two reports that paint a troubling picture: An overrepresentation of African-American juveniles in the Johnson County justice system and a lack of trust and understanding between law enforcement and minority youth.

Tackling disproportionate minority contact is no easy or simple task. It takes concerted effort and help from every angle — police, the courts, parents, community members and kids.

City and county leaders should lead the way.

A recent Iowa Division of Criminal and Juvenile Justice Planning report shows that criminal complaints against African-American juveniles increased in the county from 2010 to 2012, even while arrests for Caucasian youths went down.

Even though most of those arrests were for low-level offenses, such as fighting or being uncooperative with law enforcement, African-American youths were 1.7 times as likely as their Caucasian peers to be placed in detention, the report found. The detention rate for African-American juveniles was 19.1 per 100 referrals. For Caucasian juveniles, the rate was 11.6 per 100.

That dovetails with what members of an ad hoc diversity committee heard in nearly a year studying law enforcement issues as they relate to Iowa City’s minority populations.

Community members thought police were inconsistent in how they carry out their duties, seeming to approach minority populations with an eye to “control and monitor” them rather than “protect and serve.”

The committee’s recommendations: Build stronger relationships between police and the public, educate both sides to foster understanding, and make some concrete changes to the way the city’s Police Citizens Review Board handles and investigates complaints.

Criminal and Juvenile Justice Planning division recommendations included that Johnson County adopt a standard set of criteria by which to determine whether a juvenile should be detained.

Iowa City isn’t alone — other communities in Iowa and around the country are in similar circumstances.

But Iowa City leaders have been handed some specific and well-grounded recommendations. They should listen and follow up.

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