Symbolic Law

On Monday, June 29, Governor Kim Reynold (R-Iowa) signed into law Senate File 526, a bill “creating a blue alert program within the department of public safety for the apprehension of a person suspected of killing or seriously injuring a peace officer in the line of duty or due to safety concerns for a peace officer missing while on duty.”

The bill is not necessary; it’s symbolic.  What the bill allows can be done already without statutory approval.  No entity opposed the bill.  Why would they?  The bill is sort of a non-starter.  However, it is the epitome of what law enforcement lobbyists can accomplish in the Iowa Legislature, and probably throughout the nation.

The power of law enforcement at the Iowa Capitol can be overwhelming.  On any given day from Monday through Thursday, you can’t help but notice a sheriff, a deputy sheriff, or municipal police officer in uniform wearing a weapon on the side.  Often, the officer is accompanied by their respective lobbyist.  My question has always been: If they’re acting on behalf of the nonprofit law enforcement organization of which they are a member, why are they in uniform?  Why are they being paid?  Stew Barnes, Senior Des Moines Police Officer and representative of the Des Moines Police Bargaining Unit usually wore civilian clothes when attending meetings at the Capitol.  On the other hand, if they are on duty, is the employing agency allowing them to lobby on behalf of the nonprofit organization?  We need some ethics here.

Many of the laws passed pertaining to cops are for the special benefit of those occupations. Law enforcement has one of the best retirement plans in the state.  Many are with Iowa Public Employees Retirement System [IPERS], but some have a much better plan.  The Municipal Fired & Police Retirement System of Iowa is “66% of high three-year salary average (not including overtime). Members are eligible at age 55 with 22 years of service. Additional 2% per year beyond 22 years of service, not to exceed 30 years of service, for a maximum benefit of 82% of a member’s high three-year average salary.”

Government employees, local, state, or federal, have added protection in the form of the federal Bill of Rights.  A government employee is provided due process of law, the right to confront witnesses, and all the other protections usually offered to criminal defendants.  What you may not know, is that in Iowa, anyone with a law enforcement certification is provided with an additional set of protections.  Robert Rehkemper of the Law Firm Gourley, Rehkemper, and Lindholm, wrote an article four years ago on the matter of the “Officer’s Bill of Rights”, which is embedded in section 80F.1 of the Iowa Code.  I beg you to read Law Enforcement Bill of Rights – Special Privileges or Necessary Protection on the GRL website <>

The second subsection of 80F [80F.2] provides that a peace officer shall be reimbursed the costs of a defense for a charge which “was without probable cause . . . was filed for malicious purposes, [or] was unwarranted in consideration of all of the circumstances and matters of law attending the alleged offense.”  You are not provided with that equal protection.  See State v. Mathes, and State v. Mathes (Criminal case was dismissed.  However, Mathes was required to “reimburse the state for her court appointed fees.”)

When it comes to criminal law, cop lobbyists have been known to say that police don’t like to arrest someone for a simple misdemeanor because it’s not worth their time.  And a police chief once remarked that anything less than a felony is not worth the time or money.  If someone fights it, the officer has to go to court.  If that’s the case, how come young black men are being pulled off to the side of the road because a license plate light is not shining brightly?

For years, there has been an effort to pass a law that would require police to record custodial interviews.  It has never passed because police don’t want it passed.  One of the excuses includes the costs.  However, most law enforcement officials now wear cameras.  There are numerous grants out there, most of them from gambling receipts.  Gambling receipts are doled out to cities and counties in which there is no casino.  In Greene county, the fire department in Churdan received $3175 in 2012 for a thermal imaging camera.  Today, Jefferson, in Greene County, has a casino.  Any law enforcement facility can obtain equipment to record custodial interviews if it was mandated by law.  But recorded custodial interviews are still not the law.

Yes, police have a hazardous job, but so do packinghouse workers.  More packinghouse workers in Iowa have died this year because of their occupation than have police.   Don’t feel too sorry for the police.  Their collective interests are overly represented at the Iowa Capitol.

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