Rod Sullivan, Supervisor, Johnson County, Iowa

Previous Posts


November 15, 2014

Sullivan’s Salvos     11/18/14

In this edition:

*Adult Disproportionate Minority Contact
*TIF Totals
*Did You Know?

*Adult Disproportionate Minority Contact
         Like every county in Iowa, Johnson County has a problem with Disproportionate Minority Contact (DMC). DMC means that people of color (minorities) deal with law enforcement more frequently than they should given their percentage of the population.

         A hypothetical example: Your community is 10% African American. But 50% of the people who get arrested in your community are African American. If all other things were equal, that number should be 10%. Because it is not, you have a case of DMC.

DMC is not a new concept. It has previously been used as a criticism of juvenile justice systems. As a matter of fact, the Department of Justice has long required jurisdictions to keep records on juvenile justice, and to create plans to address these disparities. Johnson County has been doing so for over a decade. And slowly but surely, things are improving.

         DMC can exist at any point in the legal process. Being stopped, being cited, being arrested, being charged, amount of bond, severity of sentence, fine and/or jail time, police use of force, prison time… you can have DMC in any of these areas. Unfortunately, no matter where you live in the USA, you likely have DMC in ALL of those areas.

         Take marijuana use. Study after study shows that whites and blacks use marijuana at virtually the same rate. Yet blacks are much more likely to be arrested for possession. How do we explain this?

         I happen to believe it is partly that blacks are being stopped more frequently. If you stop blacks twice as often, it makes sense that you will find pot twice as often.

         Iowa City recently did a review of their traffic stops, and the numbers were striking. African Americans were much more likely to be stopped.

Why is this? There are several theories, and you will find strong disagreement with each. Again, most studies show that blacks do not engage in criminal behavior at a higher rate than whites.

         One argument is that black neighborhoods are subject to a greater police presence than are white neighborhoods. Simply having more police around increases the likelihood you will be stopped.

         There are a whole series of arguments around a biased system; biased risk assessment tools; selective enforcement of certain “discretionary” laws, such as “interference with official acts”; less effective legal counsel; and other issues.

Another argument is that blacks are often stopped because they “fit the description” of someone for whom the police are looking. This can easily be an area of bias.

         Some police officers take great umbrage at this. They point out, and rightfully so, that most of the stops they make are “calls for service”. In other words, someone called in a complaint; all they are doing is investigating.

         I believe this. I also have an anecdote that I feel illustrates what CAN happen with these calls: There is a duplex across the street from me, and it sits next to a church parking lot. There used to be a black family with 4 children living there. The kids were roughly 11, 9, 7, and 5. One day, the kids were playing in the church parking lot. This is not unusual; my kids did the same thing. All the neighborhood kids have.

         But in this instance, a neighbor called the police. She claimed that the kids were “unsupervised”. Now, I’ll grant you, the law is a little fuzzy here. But first, this was a common practice. Secondly, almost any expert would say it is OK for 11 and 9 year olds to supervise those younger siblings. Thirdly, they were within a few feet of their own home. Finally, they weren’t doing anything dangerous or otherwise problematic.

         So the officer asked the kids where their parents were. Their mother was at work – her boyfriend was in the house. The officer followed the kids into the house, waking up the boyfriend. He got angry about the officer being there. Next thing you know, the officer is running the boyfriend’s ID. As it turned out, he had missed a court date. Boom, he is on his way to jail.

         Yes, the guy had missed a court date. That is not OK. But why was the officer there in the first place? Basically because a nosy neighbor got worried when she saw black kids playing. Her biases (I would argue it is systemic racism) led to the call. Biases led to the Shift Commander deciding to send a car. Biases led to the officer going into the house. I would argue that NONE of these things would have occurred had the children been white.

         This does not mean the cops are bad. The people in my scenario simply have preconceived notions – also known as biases- that impact the way in which they behave. They are not unique – I have biases. You have biases. People of color have biases. We all do.

I use this example to illustrate how our biases – even unconsciously – can affect how we deal with people of different races. I sincerely believe it makes a difference in how we do things – whether we realize it or not.

         So where do we go from here? I am convinced that the first step is data collection. We are currently lacking information, and we need every police force in the county to adopt the same reporting system.

Remember the list of contact points I mentioned earlier? Being stopped, being cited, being arrested, being charged, amount of bond, severity of sentence, police use of force, fine and/or jail time, prison time. We need a uniform system of reporting and tracking race in each of these cases. Until we have the data, we do not know just how great our disparity really is.

         I sincerely hope that all our local law enforcement agencies will recognize the value of getting good data. It is the first step.

         Meanwhile, I urge you to spend some time reading up on DMC. It is a huge social justice issue. We must do better.

*TIF Totals
         I have often mentioned the impact of Tax Increment Financing (TIF) on the county budget. TIF is difficult to understand, and folks differ on the merits.

To read a thorough explanation through the eyes of a critic, I would refer you to the work of Nick Johnson at:

For a scholarly look at the practice, I urge people to review the work of Peter Fisher at the Iowa Policy Project: (

         Regardless of how one feels about TIF, the latest numbers are now available from the Johnson County Auditor’s Office. Here are the results for FY15:

         In the current year, $4.6 million is being diverted from Johnson County. Iowa City’s share is an all-time low - only $14,000. North Liberty is diverting just under $700,000. Coralville is diverting $3.4 million. The remainder comes from the smaller cities.

         Since FY02, $50,306,765 in revenue has been diverted from Johnson County. Those are tax revenues Johnson County never received. Over $50 million dollars.

         About $3.6 million of that is Iowa City; $6.6 million is North Liberty, and just under $35 million is Coralville. Again, the remainder comes from the smaller cities.

         If you wish to look these up yourself, the information can be found at:

Meanwhile, I believe county government deserves a great deal of credit for operating effectively and efficiently without these revenues.

*DID YOU KNOW?  Johnson County is just under 80% white. That number was 92% just 20 years ago.

Anyone interested in learning more about County government should take a look at the County website-

"Sullivan’s Salvos" is sent once per week to any interested party. It will give a brief update on issues of interest to Johnson County residents.

These messages come solely from Rod Sullivan, and neither represents the viewpoints of the whole Board of Supervisors nor those of groups or individuals otherwise mentioned.

If you do NOT want the weekly E-mail, simply reply to this message, and type "unsubscribe" in the subject line.

If you know anyone else who might be interested, just forward this message. They can E-mail me at with "subscribe" in the subject line.

As always, feel free to contact me at 354-7199 or I look forward to serving you!



Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home