Calling 911 based solely on a person's skin color and personal biases is racist, hurtful, and damaging to the community. That's why the City of Iowa City would like to remind the community that "Race-based Calls Hurt Us All."

Race-based calls occur when someone calls 911 for racially-motivated reasons, not because a crime has taken place. They occur when a person of color is engaging in normal, daily activities such as relaxing at a park or walking on the sidewalk.

Feedback from Iowa City City Council listening posts showed these calls are of great concern to community members. The City condemns race-based 911 calls and encourages the entire community to do the same.

Race-based calls: harmful and illegal

These calls are damaging on multiple levels. The individual who was reported has their life disrupted, causing feelings of anxiety, shame, or discomfort. These interactions can foster unnecessary distrust between community members and the police officers required to respond to all 911 calls, regardless of whether any illegal behavior is reported.

Officers use their discretion on how to respond to these calls - such as driving by without stopping or taking a moment to stop and talk with the subject of the call. These frivolous calls can take officers away from serious emergencies. 

Race-based 911 calls are also illegal. Iowa Code Section 718.6 states that making a false report to the police or reporting the occurrence of a crime knowing the act did not occur, or calling 911 knowing that it is not an emergency is a simple misdemeanor. Simple misdemeanors are punishable by fines up to $625.

"No one should live in fear that simply being seen in public is enough to warrant 911 being called," said Iowa City Mayor Bruce Teague. "I'm asking all members of our community to respect each other, let others go about their lives in peace, and save 911 for emergencies."

When to call 911

The community is encouraged to call 911 when they see suspicious activity or when a crime is occurring. Examples of legitimate calls to law enforcement include witnessing someone trying to enter multiple homes or vehicles, an assault in progress, or other obviously illegal acts. 

Date of publication

Thursday, July 14, 2022