The Hot Beat

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The second-day story, with your help. Call Gazette reporter Adam Belz at (319) 398-8273 or e-mail him: adam.belz@gazcomm.com

Why do C.R. police write so few crash reports?

Thousands of traffic accidents happen in Cedar Rapids each year without the police writing a report, leaving insurance companies to duke it out while their clients wish the police would weigh in.

Using state and local crash statistics, I found that Cedar Rapids police are half as likely to file a report on a traffic crash as police in some other major Iowa cities.

For instance, from 2004 to 2008, police responded to an almost equal number of accidents in Davenport and Cedar Rapids — a little over 25,000 in each city.

But over that same period Davenport police wrote twice as many crash reports as Cedar Rapids police — 14,690 in Davenport compared to 7,108 in Cedar Rapids.

By law, police are required to investigate and write reports on fatal or personal injury accidents. But when no one is hurt, the law is less clear.

The code requires that when an accident causes more than $1,000 damage, a written report should be forwarded to local law enforcement.

The code isn’t explicit about who needs to write the report. From a strict, literal reading, it could be either a police officer or one of the driver.

The interpretation at the Cedar Rapids Police Department is that police must pass along a driver’s report to the state, but generally don’t write a report unless the accident causes injury, or involves a moving violation or serious crime like drunk driving.

“A thousand dollars, as you know, is pretty low these days,” said Capt. Bernie Walther, who took over the Cedar Rapids Police Department’s Traffic Bureau in November.

Police Chief Greg Graham, Walther, and other higher-ups in the Cedar Rapids Police Department met in April to talk about the Traffic Bureau.

One key thing Walther pointed out to me is that Cedar Rapids officers can’t file accident reports from the computers in their squad cars. They don’t have the technology for it, and as a result, filing a report on an accident takes officers about two hours.

Even in Davenport, where officers file on average twice as many reports per year than Cedar Rapids, police aren’t always happy about it.

“It’s a pain in the butt,” said Sgt. Ron Waline, head of Davenport’s crash investigation unit.

Filed under: Public Safety, , , , , , , , ,

Supervisors break with federal lobbyists

The Linn County supervisors have voted to fire the federal lobbying firm that’s been working on the county’s behalf since August.

Pending approval from Palo, which has joined Linn County in retaining the firm, the supervisors terminated their contract with Chicago-based Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal, a K Street lobbying firm that was brought on to help local government secure flood recovery money by navigating the bewildering world of federal funding.

Two lobbyists were assigned to help the county, and the point person was Mary Langowski, a former aide in Sen. Tom Harkin’s office and a graduate of Drake University who went to law school at the University of Iowa.

Langowski recently left Sonnenschein to join another lobbying firm, Supervisor Brent Oleson said, and she was not replaced, leaving the county with one lobbyist.

“One of the lobbyists has left. The main one,” Oleson said.

The county has paid $81,839 — about $9,000 per month since August — to the lobbying firm.

Supervisor Jim Houser said he thought at first it was good for the county to have a lobbyist, to “keep on top of things in Washington D.C.” in the wake of the flood.

But now, “I don’t know if we need it,” Houser said.

The Cedar Rapids City Council hired Sonnenschein in July, and contracted to pay the firm $10,000 per month for no longer than a year.

The city’s contract with Sonnenschein extends into July, and the city is preparing for a request for proposal process to hire a lobbyist beyond that.

Filed under: County Government, , , ,

Volunteer firefighter axed from dayjob after emergency call made him late

Christoph Trappe reports on Online in Eastern Iowa that Heath Omar, an employee at Clipper Windpower and volunteer Hiawatha firefighter, was discharged in November after he came in late for his job as a hub assembler for Clipper.

Only thing is, he was on an emergency call, and “his employer understood the claimant could not drive an emergency vehicle and talk to the employer on his cellular telephone to report his absence,” according to an Iowa Unemployment Insurance Appeals Decision announced Wednesday.

An administrative law judge found in Omar’s favor.

Trappe is an excellent former Gazette reporter who left for greener pastures long before the recent shakeup.

Filed under: Public Safety, , , ,

What? Yep, flooding in C.R.

This is a city press release:

Starting at 3 p.m. Wednesday, April 29, Otis Rd. SE from the Cargill plant to the old sand pit area is closed due to flooding on the Cedar River. With current projections, the road will reopen on Friday, May 1. Memorial DR SE from McCarthy RD SE to Forest Ridge CT SE will be open for local and emergency access during this time period as a gravel road. Memorial DR was closed for a sanitary sewer extension which is complete except for the paving.

Fish CT SW off of Old River Road is closed due to flooding. Also, there is limited access to Robins Lake and Manhattan Park located along Ellis Blvd NW.

For a complete list of road closures please check http://www.cedar-rapids.org/traffic web site under “Current Street Closures.”

Filed under: Flood, , ,

Fire hazards at Hampton Court, #3

The basement hallway leading to the exit is blocked with shelves and other stuff. Several (perhaps all) the building’s smoke detectors don’t work.

The Hampton Courts are at 1261 and 1263 First Ave. SE, and fire protection isn’t the only problem.

Police were called to the two buildings 279 times in 2008.

One of the basement apartments in 1263 is unlocked and the floor is scattered with debris, with holes in the ceiling inside and outside above the door. The basement ceiling is spotted with holes.

Mold is growing in one of the apartments looking out on First Avenue and paint is peeling off the wall and piling up on the floor.

“These apartments are f—ed up,” said Timothy Van Ostran, who lives upstairs. “Every single one of them has something wrong with it.”

Van Ostran said it’s easy to rent there. No background checks.

“All you’ve got to do is come with the rent,” he said. “You don’t even need a deposit.”

I ran into the building manager, who lives there. He wanted to know who I was. I told him. I asked his name. He said his name was “Johnny.”

Later, we walked outside, where he called the higher-ups at Preferred Property Management, and then said: “Officially, I’m supposed to give no comment, and ask you to leave.”

Preferred Property Management runs the property, which is owned by James D. Houghton, who I called again this afternoon, but couldn’t reach.

Filed under: Public Safety, , , , ,

Hot Property #5: Cedarwood Hills Apartments, 2060 Glass Rd. NE

They’re the five brick apartment buildings way up on a hill looking down on Interstate 380 and Glass Road NE.

They’re marked separately on the map, but I’m treating them as one apartment complex.

If you take them together, which the city assessor’s office does, police were called there in 2008 more than any address in Cedar Rapids. 446 times.

They’re the Cedarwood Hills Apartments at 2060 Glass Rd. NE. The place has 180 units, and a search of Gazette archives shows a lot of police activity there.

Patice Bolden, the man jailed in the shooting death of Calvin Stringer in December 2007, listed Cedarwood Hills as his address. A man was accused of attempting to murder his girlfriend at Cedarwood Hills in the summer of 2007, and eventually was convicted of willful injury and assault with intent to inflict serious injury.

The apartments are owned by a Des Moines company called C.T. Corporation System, which is incorporated under Robert C. Thomson. The company’s home office is in New York City.

Track these properties on a map here.

Filed under: Public Safety, , , , ,

Alternate map

Jeremy Cobert (of CR Tea Party fame) was kind enough to whip up another map based on the data I used to build the current map of hot Cedar Rapids properties.

Filed under: Public Safety, , , , ,

Hot Property #4: 3000 J St. SW

Moving right along (sorry about all the map problems), we’ll look at the top residential property on the Hot 100.

It’s the Cedar Valley Townhouses at 3000 J St. SW. The complex has 186 units in 28 buildings, so it’s really a little town of its own. Police were called there 331 times in 2008.

A lot of it was minor police blotter stuff — some assaults, some drunk driving arrests. A 15-year-old waved a revolver at somebody.

Assuming for the sake of argument that an average of three people lives in each unit, the number of police visits to Cedar Valley Townhouses pales in comparison to the number at several smaller properties, where only a couple dozen people might live.

The apartments are arranged on a circle drive on the west side of J Street, just north of the 33rd Avenue SW exit.

The property is owned by the Affordable Housing Network, a non-profit organization affiliated with Four Oaks that accepts Section 8 housing vouchers. It took over for the MidAmerica Housing Partnership after that organization failed.

The network operates rental properties in all four quadrants of Cedar Rapids.

I’ve learned not to make too many promises about what I’ll do with the map, but I am trying to put plenty of information in the bubble window that pops up when you cursor over a marker. See the map here.

Filed under: Public Safety, , , , ,

Hot Property #3: 1261 First Ave. SE

Hampton Court Apartments

This is actually two apartment buildings — 1261 and 1263 First Ave. SE. I’ve got them listed separately on the map, but the two buildings are next door to each other, they both have 18 units and they’re owned by the same guy.

Police were called to one of the two buildings 279 times in 2008. That’s more than five times a week.

The company that owns the buildings is called simply 1261-1263 LLC, which was incorporated by James D. Houghton. Houghton lists an Iowa City home address.

His property’s history is a litany of drug and assault charges, and other types of police blotter items.

I called Houghton’s home, and left a message.

The questions I might ask these landlords are beginning to coalesce in my mind, thanks in large part to Ray T’s suggestions. I would appreciate further suggestions. Here’s what I’m thinking so far:

– Why do police have to spend so much time at your property?
– Do you have an application process? What is it?
– Do you do background checks?
– Do you have rules on how many people live in each apartment?
– How often do you check on guests in your properties? What are your rules about guests?

Filed under: Public Safety, , , , ,

Hot Property #2: The Rose Apartments, 1407 Third Ave. SE

Rose Apartments, 1407 Third Ave. SE

Rose Apartments, 1407 Third Ave. SE

Not going in any particular order here, just starting with the low-hanging fruit and marking the map as I go.

This 12-unit apartment building at 1407 Third Ave. SE is just next door to Hot Property #1, the house at 1410 Bever Ave. SE. It’s owned by Steven Demeulenaere, who was beaten up outside the building last fall.

Police were called to the building 121 times in 2008.

I won’t get into much more detail here, because Gazette reporter Jeff Raasch profiled the Rose Apartments about a month ago.

Filed under: Public Safety, , , , , , , , , , ,

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