DES MOINES, Iowa — Wednesday, candidates for mayor and city council in Des Moines were called on the carpet in front of one of the state’s most progressive and vocal citizen groups.

Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, or “CCI” held a forum at the downtown library to question incumbents and challengers alike on a number of issues.

The group is looking to endorse candidates for next month’s election and wants to know where they stand on issues important to CCI like racial justice, reducing gun violence, affordable housing, and improving water quality. The group has also been highly critical of the Des Moines Police Department in the past, and asked the candidates directly “do you think the Des Moines Police Department has a problem with racially-biased policing?”

Challengers like Jason Benell, who’s running against incumbent Joe Gatto in Ward Four, didn’t hesitate.

“The answer is unequivocally ‘yes,’” he said.

Incumbents were more measured.

“I think we need more training in de-escalation,” said Ward Three councilman and mayoral candidate, Josh Mandelbaum. “And that’s something we’ve already begun to implement.”

In the last election, CCI endorsed Indira Sheumaker for city council in Ward One. Sheumaker resigned last month after missing more than 20 council meetings in less than two years and giving no reason why. Former councilman-at-large Chris Coleman is among several candidates running for her former seat.

Iowa CCI has already endorsed Ward Two challenger, Chelsea Lepley. She and incumbent, Linda Westergaard, were not included in the forum.