First Black Police Chief of Iowa City Criticized for Reform Efforts

In Summary

The first Black police chief in Waterloo, Iowa is on the receiving end of more than a little backlash as he makes efforts to reform the police department, including removing a KKK resembling emblem from uniforms. 

Joe Fitzgerald, the first Black police chief in Waterloo, Iowa, is stirring up controversy both inside and outside the police department as he strives to bring on positive changes, per the Associated Press

Under Fitzgerald’s leadership, the department has banned chokeholds, outlawed racial profiling, required officers to intervene if they see excessive force and investigate all reports of misconduct. He told AP the attacks on his reputation are motivated by misinformation and racism directed at him and his boss, the city’s first Black mayor. 

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“I don’t think there’s been any police chief in America in a small- or medium-sized department that have endured this for the reasons I have endured it and I think the reasons have to do with race,” said Fitzgerald, per AP. “This is my fourth job being the first Black police chief. I’ve dealt with pushback in other places but never so overt. Never so nonfactual.” 

Fitzgerald’s pay, which is comparable to that of other Iowa police chiefs; his off-duty trips to see family in Texas, where his teenage son is still undergoing treatment for a brain tumor removed in 2019; his academic degrees, which some critics dismiss as elitist, have all placed him at the center of backlash. 

His most controversial decision came last October, when the City Council voted 5-2 to have a decades-old logo of a green-eyed, red-bodied, winged creature that resembled a Ku Klux Klan dragon removed from the cops’ uniforms, per AP. Margaret Klein, a member of the City Council who is running for mayor, asked for his resignation on Facebook in June. 

“The beat down of our police officers continues,” Klein said in a Facebook post, citing a lack of leadership. “The mayor and majority of the city council were tone deaf about the devastating impact of removing the beloved 50 year patch design, which signified heroism and vigilance.” 

Three of Fitzgerald’s chief predecessors wrote a letter expressing their displeasure at the state of the agency under his leadership, claiming it was “imploding” and morale had plummeted to new lows, per AP. 

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City Council member Jonathan Grieder said Fitzgerald has been slandered by people who claim to admire the police, adding that they are fighting with the very real issues of race, use of force and policing that have long been embedded in the department.

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