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New Cedar Rapids police chief likes enforcement cameras, license plate readers

This news story was published on September 20, 2012.
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Rick Smith, The Gazette, Cedar Rapids, Iowa –

CEDAR RAPIDS — Newly hired Police Chief Wayne Jerman says he is “very keenly aware” of the technological tools that a police department can use to make its officers more effective and a community safer.

On Tuesday afternoon, the City Council unanimously approved Jerman, who has been assistant chief of the Montgomery County Police Department in Maryland, as Cedar Rapids’ new police chief.

During an interview after the vote, Jerman strongly endorsed the city’s use of cameras to enforce speed limits and red-light running, saying Montgomery County has “a very large” camera-enforcement program that it is expanding.

Jerman said the Maryland department — with six times as many sworn police officers as Cedar Rapids — also employs 22 license-plate readers. That technology uses cameras on squad cars to photograph license plates, to instantly determine if the vehicle is stolen or the owner is wanted.

Jerman, 55, said he will look to see if the plate reader technology, which has raised privacy concerns elsewhere in Iowa, can become part of the equipment used by the Cedar Rapids department.

“I feel like the license plate reader is a fantastic tool,” he said. “They’ve proven themselves time and time again as an effective force multiplier and crime-fighting tool.”

He said a rigid policy that restricts the use of the information to law enforcement agencies will protect people’s rights.

“If it makes Cedar Rapids a safer place without violating rights, what’s the argument against it?” Jerman asked.

Council member Justin Shields warned Jerman that the city likely would need him to lobby the Iowa Legislature on law-enforcement issues. During the 2012 session, lawmakers made an effort to force cities with traffic cameras to remove them.

But Jerman said making the case for the cameras is simple.

“It’s effective in reducing speed, and when you reduce speed, you reduce collisions, and when you reduce collisions, you reduce injuries. And isn’t that what it’s all about?” he asked.

Jerman said his “style” would not be to make broad changes quickly. Instead, he said he would listen and observe and get to know the employees.

He said a “workload analysis” might be useful to determine if the staffing level of 203 sworn officers is optimal to allow officers to work safely and make the community safe.

City Manager Jeff Pomeranz identified Jerman as his choice for police chief out of an initial 35 applicants for the job.

“I think he’s the person for the job at this time,” he told the council. “There’s no question that he will be successful.”

Pomeranz and two other local representatives traveled to Montgomery County to talk to those who worked with Jerman there. The city manager said he was impressed by “the closeness” of the relationships that Jerman, as assistant chief, had maintained with “officers in the field.”

Jerman told the council, “I love being a cop.” After 32 years as police officer, he said, he still enjoys coming to work every day.

Jerman and his wife, Terri, have a daughter, Bridgette, 18. She plans to enroll at the University of Iowa, he said.

Jerman’s first day on the job will be Oct. 29.

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