John R. Rooff, III

Exemplary Policing Programs to Promote Tolerance and Respect for Diversity

1. Briefly describe the structure of your program.


The City of Waterloo, Iowa, population 67,476 is the most racially diverse city in the state. Its African-American population is the largest in the state, accounting for 14.5 percent of our citizens. It has a growing Hispanic population with 3 percent of the population and small Asian and Native American communities. In the past two years it has seen a marked growth in a new minority, ethnic Bosnians who have been settled here by the U.S. State Department. These refugees from the war in the Balkans are primarily of Muslim religious background and now account for more than 4 percent of the population.


Policing programs to promote tolerance and respect for diversity in the city of Waterloo include: monthly radio call-in talk shows on the locally owned African-American FM radio station by both the mayor and the chief of police, the development of racial disturbance response teams with the NAACP, a concerted effort to increase minority and protected class hiring of police officers, and a new out-reach program to our new Bosnian community.

Since 1990, the mayor and the chief of police of Waterloo have personally conducted separate monthly call-in talk radio shows on the locally owned African-American Broadcasting Company, KBBG-FM (88.1). The motto of KBBG, "Communicate to Educate" speaks to the intent of the program. Citizens of all races are able to speak directly to the mayor and the chief about current issues of concern in the community. We strongly believe that this direct communication between our officials, the callers, as well as the listening audience has gone a very long way to decrease racial tension and to significantly enhance communication in our city. Both the mayor and the chief participate in the public fund drive which resulted in the construction of a new $600,000 studio and an increase in power output of the station to 50,000 watts covering all of Northeast Iowa.

2. When was the program created and why?

In 1991, Waterloo was adversely affected by serious assaults and shootings, both across and between racial divisions. Working with the U.S. Department of Justice Community Relations Service out of Kansas City, Missouri, as well as the local branch of the NAACP, the Waterloo Police Department developed an innovative program of partnership with the leadership of the African-American community that brought these problems to a quick end. The chief of police received an U.S. Department of Justice Award at the Regional Police Chiefs Conference for his direct, personal involvement in ending these racially based assaults. In the succeeding seven years, we have not seen a repeat of these problems. The heart of the program was the formation of teams of police officers and African-American citizens who patrolled together in marked police vehicles and could respond directly to the scene of a potential problem and work jointly to resolve the matter.

3. How do you measure the programís effectiveness?

In 1990 the Waterloo Police Department had only two African-American officers out of a total force of 126 sworn police officers. The new chief of police undertook an innovative and aggressive out-reach hiring program that succeeded beyond the communityís expectations and resulted in him being the first non-minority to receive the prestigious "Mover and Shaker Award" from the local chapter of the NAACP in his first year on the job. In that first year, eight minority officers were hired, including the first African-American female police officers. The key elements that made this program successful were an intense personal effort to contact key leaders in the Eastside (African-American) Ministerial Alliance, first time use of the local NBC-TV affiliate to advertise for minority and female applicants, use of the KBBG radio program to reach into the minority community, recruitment tables set up at minority community shopping areas and appearances at a local junior college and universities. The Waterloo Police Department now has 14 minority officers plus an additional 12 white female officers who are also considered a protected class in what was previously a bastion of white male power. Two of these female officers now hold the rank of police sergeant and one of those is on the promotion list for police lieutenant. The goal of the police department is to mirror the racial composition of the community that we serve. While we are statistically not quite there yet, we are well on the way to success.

The terrible war in Bosnia-Hercegovina in Eastern Europe in the mid- to late 1990ís created a huge wave of refugees to America fleeing their homeland to escape murder, rape and mutilation due to ethnic and religious differences. Waterloo is home to a large meat packing complex and has the very good fortune to have an unemployment rate far below that of the rest of the country. This created a need for workers, which attracted these Bosnian refugees here for jobs. In turn, they liked our Midwestern lifestyle and the quality of life and educational opportunities in our communities, hence they brought their extended families to Waterloo from across the United States as well as directly from Bosnia. The refugees arrived here from camps in Europe with nothing but the clothes on their backs. The Waterloo Police Department, in cooperation with county human services and religious organizations, reached out to these new residents of our city to make them feel welcome. We conducted drivers licensing and rule of the road training, cultural awareness and domestic abuse prevention training for the newly arriving Bosnian refugees. We assisted them with the development of a Bosnian cultural center, Bosnian restaurants and now a "Balkan Bar." Well in excess of four thousand Bosnian refugees, both direct and indirect, have now settled in the city of Waterloo and are well on their way to becoming Americans.

4. How is the program financed?

These programs are relatively inexpensive and highly effective. The KBBG radio talk show is absolutely cost free. While we did assist them with their private fund-raising, the majority of these funds came from private sources. The work with the NAACP on the racial response teams cost only the police personnel resources that were already deployed in the community. The cost of the minority recruitment efforts was easily covered within normal city and police department budgeted personnel lines. Handout materials and flyers were printed locally at the school system print shop.

5. How is the community involved in the program, if at all? How has the community responded to the program?

Community involvement is absolutely essential to the success that we have achieved. The hard work of both individuals and organizations spelled the difference between success and failure. From the local news media to religious, educational and social organizations, the entire Waterloo community has experienced a rebirth of trust and faith in their police department.

6. What are the major lessons learned that would be helpful for others trying to implement a similar program?

The local Human Rights Commission has worked side-by-side with the police department to overcome past wounds and to open new dialogue towards an inclusive future for all our citizens.

7. What specific advice do you have for mayors interested in replicating a program such as yours?

The costs are inexpensive, the results are tangible and extraordinarily positive but the effort must be prolonged, sustained and motivated from the heart. A mid-sized American industrial based community like Waterloo has proven that progress can be made and a better life for all can be obtained.

For more information, please contact:

Chief Bernal F. Koehrsen, Jr.
Waterloo Police Department
715 Mulberry Street
Waterloo, IA 50703
Telephone: (319) 291-4522 ext. 3200
Telephone: (319) 291-4339
Fax: (319) 291-4332

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