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Waterloo police chief’s first night on the job spent at protest, focuses on accountability

alo protest

WATERLOO, Iowa (KWWL) -- After being sworn in three hours prior, Waterloo Police Chief Joel Fitzgerald spent hours discussing racial and community issues with protesters at Lincoln Park.

Tensions flared at times while community members asked Fitzgerald as to how he would create change. The new police chief listed a number of different trainings he wanted to offer for the city's officers. Those included procedural justice training, implicit bias training, and also training that would focus on excessive force.

Protesters asked about reforms that were discussed a few years prior.

"If there reforms agreed to and were never done, I would think that the city would be culpable and to make changes that they agreed upon before being released, from lets say a consent decree or anything else they may have agreed upon. So I would like to see what those changes were," Fitzgerald said.

A number of times, Fitzgerald said he wanted to see change and that he would hold his department accountable. The chief said expectations for the department were higher moving forward.

At one point, a truck flying a white supremacist flag drove by the park, inciting protesters before speeding away. Fitzgerald was asked how he planned to deal with those kinds of issues.

"We can't police people based on how you feel. We can't police people based on how you feel about a black guy, or how we feel about a white person, or a Hispanic person. We would be just as bad as everybody else," Fitzgerald said.

Organizers informed the crowd that police had stopped the driver of that truck a few blocks away. While feelings and sentiments aren't something police can enforce, Fitzgerald noted that the driving of the driver was enforceable.

The crowd often seemed receptive to his being there, many of them saying that no cop had ever interacted with them like this. Being the city's first African American to lead its police force, Fitzgerald tried to connect with those who said they'd been hurt by police.

The crowd questioned racial disparities in arrests and also the justice system as well calling for the removal of a controversial patch worn by police, which some believe is racist.

Several other community leaders were present including Waterloo Mayor Quentin Hart, Sheriff Tony Thompson, Representative Ras Smith, and a number of others.

Damage was reported elsewhere in the city, but there's no confirmed motive or connection to the protests. Waterloo Fire Rescue noted that Molotov cocktails had been thrown at a Dollar General on West Fifth Street. No damage was said to be caused by the makeshift bombs. Also downtown a table umbrella was burned at Newton's Cafe but firefighters managed to extinguish that blaze.

Our KWWL crew was there for much of the protest. You can watch our Facebook live below. Be advised, there is some profanity that can be heard throughout the video.

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Taylor Vessel

Multimedia Reporter

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