Blog Post: Storm Lake’s Roadmap for Inclusion and Equity
November 6, 2023
Law Enforcement Immigration Task Force Blog
Located in northwest Iowa, the small city of Storm Lake boasts one of Iowa’s most ethnically diverse communities. The Storm Lake Police Department recently shared their success story of implementing inclusion programs in their community to increase trust in law enforcement and community.
While Iowa may not be the most diverse state in the country, the city of Storm Lake’s demographics tells a different story. According to U.S. Census data, the city’s population is comprised of 39.1% Hispanic, 35.7% White, 4.2% Black, 15.3% Asian, 3.1% Pacific Islander, and 2.60% other mixed-race residents. The rich diversity in Storm Lake can be traced back to the 1970s, when the city aided in the resettlement of southeast Asian refugees. Since then, the city has continued to diversify and welcome migrants. Mayor Mike Porsch was candid about the city’s diversification, stating that “the evolution did not come without challenges. One of the hardest parts is acceptance of that diversity. That does not happen overnight.”
Thus, this poses a question that many communities and law enforcement agencies are trying to decipher – How do we create a connected community built upon the values of inclusion and equity?
Mayor Porsch shared a roadmap to inclusion and equity that the Storm Lake Police Department and city government have implemented:
When Mayor Porsch first became active in local government, he noticed that leaders were not always connecting with many of Storm Lake residents who are non-natives or non-native English speakers. To bridge this gap, Mayor Porsch suggests relationship-building. By reaching out and learning about existing cultures in your community, you can gain a new perspective while simultaneously building relationships and encouraging community inclusion. While ensuring that city leaders conduct outreach is important, equally important is the outreach conducted by law enforcement.
- Outreach and Programs
The Storm Lake Police Department has spearheaded a plethora of outreach programs and community events. Officer Bravo of the SLPD expressed that he enjoys these events because they allow for creating connections in a non-law enforcement environment and help educate people about the role of law enforcement in the community.
For example, SLPD runs a free program called YumVee. Officers repurposed a military surplus vehicle into an ice cream truck that patrols the neighborhoods. The YumVee facilitates a fun and free treat for kids, while simultaneously allowing officers to hear what families need in their neighborhood. The SLPD have also helped create a basketball court, hosted BBQs, attended farmers markets, provided 219 free haircuts to students, and conducted food outreach.
Each of these activities created a channel for dialogue between Storm Lake’s residents and the Police Department. Officer Bravo explained that these discussions are especially important in a diverse community like Storm Lake because “people from other countries and societies may have different perspectives of police, not necessarily trust.” Overall, through outreach, SLPD’s programs have helped unite a diverse community and build trust with one another.
While continuing to conduct outreach to build relationships and trust, Mayor Porsch cautions leaders to not expect progress to be achieved in a short amount of time. Rather, the process of creating inclusion and equity is ongoing. Through continuous outreach and programs to non-native residents and non-native English speakers, Storm Lake’s law enforcement and city government was able to “bridge the gap between ‘us’ and ‘them’ and become ‘we.’” Change does not happen overnight, but persistence is the key to success.
Taken together, the relationship-building, outreach, and time that Storm Lake dedicated to creating inclusion and equity in their community serves as a valuable lesson for all law enforcement agencies and city governments. When the values of inclusion and equity become a priority, a community can manifest where everyone feels that they belong and have a stake in society.
Original post can be found here.