Podcast

On this edition of Iowa Press, Judy Bradshaw, director of the Iowa Law Enforcement Academy, and Sheriff Tony Thompson, Black Hawk County Sheriff and president of the Iowa State Sheriffs' and Deputies' Association, discuss policing in Iowa after a year of increased national and local dialogue around the role of law enforcement, training, bias and certain tactics. 

Joining moderator David Yepsen at the Iowa Press table are Kay Henderson, news director for Radio Iowa, and Erin Murphy, Des Moines bureau chief for Lee Enterprises. 

Program support provided by: Associated General Contractors of Iowa, Iowa Bankers Association and FUELIowa.

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In the past year, police practices have been a regular conversation. We sit down with Iowa experts Judy Bradshaw and Tony Thompson on this edition of Iowa Press.

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Funding for Iowa Press was provided by Friends, the Iowa PBS Foundation. The Associated General Contractors of Iowa, the public's partner in building Iowa's highway, bridge and municipal utility infrastructure. Iowa PBS is supported in part by Wells Fargo. Fuel Iowa is a voice and a resource for Iowa's fuel industry. Our members offer a diverse range of products including fuel, grocery and convenience items. They help keep Iowans on the move in rural and urban communities. Together we Fuel Iowa. Small businesses are the backbone of Iowa's communities and they are backed by Iowa banks. With advice, loans and financial services, banks across Iowa are committed to showing small businesses the way to a stronger tomorrow. Learn more at IowaBankers.com.

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For decades Iowa Press has brought you politicians and newsmakers from across Iowa and beyond. Celebrating nearly 50 years of broadcast excellence on statewide Iowa PBS, this is the Friday, June 11 edition of Iowa Press. Here is David Yepsen.

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Yepsen: Over the past year, America has refocused its public policy attention on the methods and outcomes of modern police practices. The murder of George Floyd in 2020 was a catalyst for this conversation. Here in Iowa, initial policing legislation was signed into law one year ago and another bill dubbed "Back the Blue" was passed during the 2021 session. We've gathered a pair of Iowa policing experts to discuss how our state is responding. Judy Bradshaw is a former Des Moines Police Chief and now is the Director of the Iowa Law Enforcement Academy tasked with training and testing Iowa police officers. And Tony Thompson is the Sheriff of Black Hawk County as well as the President of the Iowa State Sheriffs' and Deputies' Association. Welcome to you both. Thanks for being here.

Thank you.

Yepsen: Also joining the conversation across the table is Erin Murphy, Des Moines Bureau Chief for Lee Enterprises and Kay Henderson is News Director at Radio Iowa.

Yepsen: Sheriff, before we begin questioning about law enforcement, you're a democrat. You have been mentioned as a possible candidate for the democratic nomination for Governor. Is there any truth to that? Are you thinking about it? Where does that stand?

Thompson: I don't know why my name keeps coming up other than I have been somewhat critical during the pandemic and things. But in my county we had one of the largest meatpacking plants and that didn't go so well for us up there. And so when the Governor chose to side with corporate interests rather than Iowans I got very offended, I got very frustrated and when we started having people die certainly I took her to task. I serve at the will of the people and as an elected official I protect the people that are in my charge. I have very little interest in that job. It's very easy to throw stones when you're not sitting in that chair. I have the utmost respect for that position and I'm just as quick to let her know the good things that she has done as well.

Yepsen: So no announcements?

Thompson: No announcements.

Yepsen: We do do politics on this show.

Thompson: Yeah, well, I'm somewhat a politician too.

Yepsen: Erin?

Murphy: Sheriff Thompson, David mentioned the George Floyd death. When Derek Chauvin was found guilty how did the officers in your charge react to that verdict?

Thompson: I think we all breathed a sigh of relief because it was kind of this tempest in a tea pot. It was a pressure cooker for us that we knew we were all preparing for what if, we were all preparing for what happens when that inevitable, one way or the other, what happens? And I don't know that there is a single law enforcement officer out there that looked at the video of a gentleman having his knee on the neck of someone restrained and said, that's okay. There is no law enforcement officer that looked at that and said, that's okay. So, as the national rhetoric continued to build at least Iowa law enforcement officers we all felt compelled to say this isn't right, this is not the way we train, this is not the way we do things. And so I think we all breathed a sigh of relief.

Murphy: How about the young people coming through your agency? What was their reaction to that verdict?

Bradshaw: You know, the young officers feel the very same way. I'll echo the Sheriff. They are all brand new, brand new hires. Many of them are in their early 20s and even though they hadn't completed their training because we had been I think in week number two of their just start of the basic academy training, they know wrong when they see it. It is something that we have talked about, we will continue to talk about as we conduct our training. But it's not something that we had to necessarily tell them was wrong. This is something that, they're all adults, they have families, they have consciences, they have got morals, they come in wanting to serve which is why they are in this as a service. And so we used that as a platform though to train bias training, de-escalation training and the duty to intervene. So, we had already set a foundation for this training and now we can build on that and use this as a reference.

Henderson: Judy Bradshaw, you have been at the Academy since 2014. What is the record in terms of recruiting people to be law officers in Iowa?

Bradshaw: Well, we have had very good numbers over the last six, seven years attending the basic academy training. Our law enforcement academy, we aren't the hiring entity. So the chiefs and the sheriffs of the communities, they hire their own officers and deputies and then they send them to the academy for the training. Des Moines Police Department is a regional academy so they conduct their own basic academy training for their new police officers. I attended the Des Moines Police Academy when I was hired by Des Moines PD back in 2019, something. And Cedar Rapids also is a regional academy. So they also hire their own officers, they are authorized by the code to hire and train their own and certify their own officers. So we get all other sheriff's deputies and officers throughout the state outside of Des Moines and Cedar Rapids that attend the training.

Henderson: Sheriff, how has retention been in your agency?

Thompson: Both from retention and hiring we are seeing more challenges than we've ever seen before. That national messaging, that national I guess the challenge that is around law enforcement today makes it tougher. What used to be for us a profession has become more of a job and that 7 to 10 year window is what we're seeing now as kind of the standard for officers' length of stay. And so it is not uncommon to see someone at that 7 year mark say, enough is enough and they move onto something else less stressful, less challenging and certainly in some ways a little more rewarding.

Murphy: So last year state legislators passed a social justice bill that had an impact on policing. It did a myriad of things but among them it banned the use of chokeholds in most cases, banned hiring officers that have been disciplined in other departments, allows the Attorney General to investigate officer involve shootings. Sheriff Thompson, we'll start with you on this one. Did that bill, were you okay with the contents of that bill? Is there anything in there that made your job or your officer's jobs more difficult?

Thompson: Right, our state association lobbies and has a very strong legislative committee and we didn't see anything in that bill that really gave us any pause. It didn't change our methodology one way or the other. In my agency or statewide I didn't hear any sheriffs standing up and saying, oh my gosh, this is a crisis because 90% of what was contained in that bill was already being implemented and was already standard practice across the board.

Murphy: And I've heard that -- Director Bradshaw, I'll ask you -- I've heard a lot, specifically on the chokeholds, that is something that most law enforcement agencies don't teach anyway. How about to you, was there anything in that bill that gave you a little bit of heartburn?

Bradshaw: Not at all. We think it was progressive. Most of what law enforcement entities do anyway is refer back to statutes. So that House File ties in with other parts of the code of ADB and parts of the criminal code and the administrative rules piece that governs the Iowa Law Enforcement Academy and our academy council. So what that piece did was it actually formalized some of what we're already doing. So in the way of chokeholds, although it prohibits chokeholds, in most circumstances we were not training that and have never trained chokeholds at the Iowa Law Enforcement Academy. When I did come on in 1980 at the Des Moines Police Department that's not what I learned, that is not what we were trained. And so we are aware though, I hear from my defensive tactics instructors that there are some agencies outside the state of Iowa that do still train chokeholds and that is part of what they are allowed to do. We don't do that in the state of Iowa. The other pieces of this go to the decertification clarification process for the state of Iowa and hiring officers that are already certified by another state. So some of the practices that we were already conducting and doing at the Iowa Law Enforcement Academy, this legislation made it formal and put it into the code. So I think it strengthened what we are already doing and it also set a road map out for a process that we can continue with down the road at the Academy.

Henderson: Sheriff, during the just concluded legislative session this year legislators passed, as David referenced, a bill they call "Back the Blue". It increases the penalties for protesting. Is that something that you and your association asked for?

Thompson: We were very neutral on this bill. As it first came out, as you know, there was a good mix, a homogeny between some social justice types of things as well as some "back the blue" type language. And most of that social justice reform language got stripped. So we originally lobbied and registered as neutral on that bill and we remain so all the way through. Now, there were some things that we were quite happy to see stay in there, qualified immunity and things like that, because again, it is tough to recruit and retain officers. And so there are some things that we were happy to see get passed legislatively. However, that was an interesting bill to watch navigate its way through the legislative session. It got ping-ponged back and forth several times. So at the end of the day that bill didn't end up the way we assumed that it would but we --

Henderson: Positively or negatively?

Thompson: I think we saw that bill kind of as a foot in the door kind of bill this year. We saw it from a social justice perspective nothing ended up in that bill. So with our partners, with the NAACP, the ACLU and some of the other folks that we do have dialogue with, that we do try and work with and have communications with, we recognize that there is still more work to be done. And so we continue both the ISSDA and the Iowa Police Chiefs' Association, we have an equity task force that is very active and runs parallel with the Governor's Task Force on Equity. So that is part of what we have tried to continue to work and inject and we hope to have something standalone in that respect.

Yepsen: Judy Bradshaw, what is your reaction to the "Back the Blue" bill?

Bradshaw: Well, to piggyback what the Sheriff was talking about, I am on the Governor's Criminal Justice Focus Committee. So a lot of the social justice language that was not part of the "Back the Blue" we hope to continue with the committee and to take another run at that. Obviously the Governor is supportive of the social justice piece so I know she wants to see that. The conversation isn't over. Like the Sheriff said, I think it's a starting point and I believe that there is going to be continued conversation on the social justice piece of it.

Henderson: Specifically, Sheriff, to the part of the bill that enhances the penalties for protesting and addresses being on a sidewalk. Does that mean that if there is a protest in Waterloo or somewhere in Black Hawk County you're going to be arresting more protestors?

Thompson: I do recognize that the bill gives a lot of resources to officers to enable them to use that law to their advantage. However, there is a lot of discretion that is used in law enforcement regardless of what it is. Jaywalking, for example, is still a law, but you never see it prosecuted, you never see it arrested. Well, maybe not never, but you rarely see it arrested. So I would like in a lot of that the lasers and a lot of the things that were contained in there, no -- I've got to be careful how I say this. I don't believe any association whether it was the Chiefs' of Police, SPOC, any of those associations asked for that language. I'm not aware of -- I know ISSDA didn't.

Murphy: One of the elements that you talked about that didn't make it into that package from the social justice side was a proposal to address racial profiling and get at that by collecting data on traffic stops. In your view as the manager of your department, are you comfortable with the state requiring police departments and sheriff's departments to collect that data so it can be analyzed?

Thompson: We have been tracking that data for almost 20 years. We have been maintaining the records of -- now the question is the devil in the details, right, making sure that what we have been tracking aligns with whatever the state might roll out for expectation. But we have been trying to be diligent and track that data for almost 20 years now.

Murphy: Director Bradshaw, do you think that is a fair ask of law enforcement agencies to collect that data so it can be analyzed?

Bradshaw: Absolutely. That was part of the Governor's Focus Committee so we introduced that for consideration, we had vetted that, talked with the DOT about rolling over that information so that it is accurate and what circumstances. That part we knew that we had to work with the police associations on those details that the Sheriff is alluding to. But yeah, the Governor supported that and that is part of what we hope the conversation will be continuing going forward.

Henderson: One of the discussion points that has been happening over the past several years is the fact that law enforcement is often called up on to deal with mental health situations. What in your view, Judy Bradshaw, will be the impact of enhancing the state's mental health system and the stress that that has created in jails across the state?

Bradshaw: I think it is significant. The funding for the mental health now taken on by the state of Iowa, it is going to allow so many other resources for the counties. Right now a lot of the resources are out of the large areas, Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, Davenport, Council Bluffs, there are resources there and they are available. But we know that as a state we have to get those resources out to the rural areas. And we see that when we're training these young officers and we're putting them through our crisis intervention training. We bring in resources, we bring in members of NAMI and the mental health services and they are part of the training, they are part of the scenario-based situations that we put our young trainees through. And they talk through, okay, what kind of resources are available in my part of the state of Iowa? So we're trying to hook them up now through their basic academy training with that. But I'm going to be interested to see how this grows. I know in the metro area, again, my reference is the Des Moines Police Department. We used a mobile crisis team. That is highly effective. And I know that there is an affordability and a budget piece to that. So we're hoping that maybe that is now available out in your rural areas to more counties. And I think you'll see a success there.

Yepsen: Sheriff, same question to you, mental health?

Thompson: Judy hit the nail on the head because really as we subject officers to crisis intervention training, mental health and first aid, trauma informed training, all of those types of training and investing in training is great but they will learn all of these diversionary tactics, they will learn how to divert. But divert to what? In rural counties where they don't have options to divert to the jail still ends up being at the bottom of that funnel. And if you don't have another option unfortunately Iowa still lags. So my prayer is as we make this transition in funding that we don't miss the opportunities that exist, I was on that task force that kind of helped with the redesign about five years ago and we redesigned everything but we didn't get the funding.

Yepsen: Is de-escalation training part of -- do officers get that now?

Thompson: Absolutely.

Yepsen: And does it work?

Thompson: Well, I think it does work. I think it works -- the sheriff is the officer of the court and so the court, two people come in and they say hey, Judy is crazy, we need to have her committed. In my county that happens every day. And so the sheriff gets ordered by the judge to go into somebody's house and have them forcibly removed and take them to some place to have them evaluated. We do that all the time and you never hear about somebody having to be beaten into the car and taken to a mental health evaluation center.

Yepsen: Judy Bradshaw, I assume that's training at the Law Enforcement Academy too? De-escalation they call it.

Bradshaw: Absolutely.

Murphy: Sheriff Thompson, let's start with you on this one. The legislature this year passed a law that eliminates the requirement for individuals to have a permit to carry a firearm and that is the latest kind of in a step of legislators passing laws that expand gun owner's rights or lessen gun protections, depending on which side you are ideologically on that argument. From your perspective and wanting your deputies to be safe as they go out and do their job, what is your general view of these laws? Are they a good thing? Do they put your officers in harm's way?

Thompson: I'm nervous. I'm nervous that -- I was getting a haircut and the gentleman cutting my hair was telling me about how he got stopped for an OWI and had a gun in the car and so he also got charged with a felony and possession of the weapon while intoxicated. And he said, well I'll just wait until the law changes and I can constitutionally carry. And I said, that's not the way it works. If you're a felon, you can't carry after July either. That's just not the way that works. And so I'm fearful that there's going to be a lot of people, even good honest hardworking people that just honestly don't understand that are going to put themselves in harm's way, that are going to put themselves in jeopardy simply because they don't understand how that law truly works.

Yepsen: Judy Bradshaw, do we need some education of the citizenry here and how this law is going to work? What do you think of the law? And it is going to work? Do people understand it?

Bradshaw: I'm with the Sheriff, I am a little bit concerned about how this will play out. We have talked to, I have talked to our legal instructor, we can educate obviously our law enforcement officers and are doing that on the law. But to his point, I think there is probably an education of the citizenry that needs to occur. I don't know whose responsibility that is necessarily. It is probably going to fall on the first responders, the chiefs and sheriffs in their communities and the relationships that they have with their community to lead that charge. But yeah, I think the officers will be well trained on it, on what the law is and the ramifications.

Murphy: Sheriff Thompson, we're seeing national trends of an increase in violent crime. Is that happening in Iowa too?

Thompson: We are seeing it in our area. We are seeing an increase in violent crime.

Murphy: Do you have any idea what has attributed to that, why that is?

Thompson: I truly believe that it may be pandemic related. We've all been cooped up for so long that now the weather is getting nice and we're all kind of interacting again and maybe we have forgotten how to socially interact a little bit. But we also see the cyclical that as the weather gets nicer things start to break out a little bit more violently too. But thankfully crime itself is trending down but violent crime is trending up. And so while overall crime is down, the violence associated with crime is up. And so that is a bit of a challenge and I think it's more urban than rural. But I can't put my finger on any one issue that contributes to that.

Yepsen: Judy Bradshaw, crime rates up? Down? What are you seeing?

Bradshaw: My 34 years at Des Moines PD it slowly declined over that 34 year time period. And, as the Sheriff said, it is still declining, but with spikes in certain categories. So it's hard to gauge what drives it. I think COVID changed a lot of things. And I think that COVID, the residual impact from COVID and crime will last for several years.

Henderson: Judy Bradshaw, just real quickly, you're training recruits. What is your best advice to them to stay in the career as long as you have?

Bradshaw: They come in with two sets or they are going to leave with two sets. They are going to leave with the skills that we're going to provide for them, how to shoot a gun, how to handcuff, how to drive a car, how to handle a domestic violent situation. But they also come in and what we want to enhance and focus on is the will set, that is your character, your honesty, your integrity. You have to embed those to what you bring to the table and you have to embed the skills with that and then you come out and can make good decisions and you become an effective, honorable officer.

Yepsen: We're out of time. Thank you, Judy Bradshaw, Sheriff Thompson, thank you very much for being with us today, we appreciate it. And thank you for your service.

Thank you.

Yepsen: And we'll be back next week with another edition of Iowa Press at our regular times, 7:30 Friday night and Noon on Sunday. So for all of us here at Iowa PBS, I'm David Yepsen. Thanks for joining us today.

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Funding for Iowa Press was provided by Friends, the Iowa PBS Foundation. The Associated General Contractors of Iowa, the public's partner in building Iowa's highway, bridge and municipal utility infrastructure. Iowa PBS is supported in part by Wells Fargo. Fuel Iowa is a voice and a resource for Iowa's fuel industry. Our members offer a diverse range of products including fuel, grocery and convenience items. They help keep Iowans on the move in rural and urban communities. Together we Fuel Iowa. Small businesses are the backbone of Iowa's communities and they are backed by Iowa banks. With advice, loans and financial services, banks across Iowa are committed to showing small businesses the way to a stronger tomorrow. Learn more at IowaBankers.com.

Iowa Bankers Association
Associated General Contractors of Iowa