The Hot Beat


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

Police might leave stone age on pawnshop tracking

Cedar Rapids police are looking into paying for an online database that will make it easier to track items at pawn shops.

Before the flood, the Cedar Rapids Police Department was looking at using LeadsOnline, an Internet service that collects information from pawn shops and allows police to search a database for stolen items or evidence in an investigation.

It’s not that police here don’t already pay attention to pawnshop transactions. But their process is mind-numbingly archaic.

Whenever someone hands over a Rolex, or whatever, at one of Cedar Rapids’ four pawn shops, the store must record a description of the property and the identity of the customer on a slip that it gives to police. “We go pick them up, bring them to crime analysis, and then they get entered in,” said Capt. Bernie Walther.

When cops got fed up with that job, the city instituted a $1 fee for each item in 2008, to cover the cost of sending officers to pick up the slips and paying someone to type the items into the system.

But over the next few weeks, police will investigate in earnest whether it will be better to pay a private company to collect the information from pawn shops and maintain the database.

The New York and Los Angeles Police Departments already use LeadsOnline, as do 39 agencies in Illinois.

The Dubuque Police Department just became one of the few Iowa law enforcement agencies to sign up for the service. “Our last pawnshop just signed on yesterday,” Lt. Scott Baxter said.

Dubuque police have already recovered some stolen tools and snowboards using the service. In Grinnell, police have used the service to recover $20,000 in stolen property.

It costs Dubuque $5,900 per year, a fee the city has paid with seized drug money, Baxter said.


Filed under: Cedar Rapids City Council, Public Safety

About those Chicago billboards

The Iowa Department of Economic Development has been advertising Iowa, as a place to live, in Chicago since the 1980s.

The department ran an ad on billboards along I-294, I-90, I-290 and I-94 in May, June and July of 2007. Those are all, of course, major interstates that can have apoplexy-inducing traffic.

Here’s the ad:

This advertisement ran on billboards along interstates in Chicago in 2007.

This advertisement ran on billboards along interstates in Chicago in 2007.

The Iowa Department of Economic Development calls this “workforce recruitment,” an effort to reach University of Iowa graduates or native Iowans living in Chicago, get them to come back and raise their families here.

It’s really a far cry from the local myth that Iowa has been running Section 8 ads in south Chicago for years, but as Steve Rackis, the guy who oversees Section 8 in Iowa City, points out, everyone drives on the interstate, and everyone likes the idea of a safe, quiet place with good schools and no traffic.

So certainly, some low-income black people have seen these ads and responded by moving to Iowa. I spoke with a such a family earlier this week.

More on this later. The Section 8 story continues to evolve. Would love to keep getting your thoughts.

Filed under: Cedar Rapids City Council, Iowa City, Public Safety

Crime way down across the nation (and in C.R.)

The Washington Post is reporting huge declines in violent crime this year across the country: “The District, New York and Los Angeles are on track for fewer killings this year than in any other year in at least four decades.”

While homicide is so rare in Cedar Rapids that it’s difficult to draw statistical conclusions about it, Cedar Rapids’ declining rates of reported crime reflect this national trend (whether you believe it or not).

Filed under: Cedar Rapids City Council, Public Safety, , , , , , , ,

“Sideways” director working on new film called “Cedar Rapids”

Alexander Payne, director of “Sideways,” the 2004 movie about two middle-aged guys touring California wine country, is directing a new movie called “Cedar Rapids.”

No word yet on why the name was chosen, or if it has anything to do with our fair city, but hey, news is news, right!

Shooting will begin in October. Variety is reporting that the film, which will star Ed Helms from “The Office,” is about “a sad-sack insurance agent who goes to an industry convention to try to save the jobs of his colleagues.”

Whatever. Maybe it’ll be like “Fargo” was for Fargo, and the movie will change our city forever. Wait, nevermind.

Filed under: Cedar Rapids City Council, Other, , , , ,

Section 8 myths/facts

Myth: Most Section 8 vouchers in Cedar Rapids are held by people from Chicago.
Fact: 93 percent of vouchers in Cedar Rapids were issued locally, and the program requires one year of residency, and has a three to five year waiting list. 4.8 percent of vouchers come from Illinois, representing about 50 households.

Myth: Most Section 8 vouchers in Cedar Rapids are used in Wellington Heights.
Fact: Of the 1066 vouchers in use today, 185 are in southeast Cedar Rapids. The quadrant with the most vouchers is southwest Cedar Rapids, with 316.

Myth: When someone uses a Section 8 voucher, he or she can invite lots of friends and family to live with them in the unit.
Fact: A Section 8 voucher will be terminated if the voucher-holder breaks the terms of the agreement, and one term is that “unauthorized occupants” are forbidden.

I’ll be working on a story about Section 8 in Cedar Rapids over the next few weeks, and I’m looking for people who have experience with it — renters, neighbors, cops. I’m not sure what the story will say, but I want to get as many ideas and perspectives as possible before it goes to press. Call me!

My phone number is 319-398-8273 and my e-mail is

Filed under: Cedar Rapids City Council, Public Safety

Accident reports e-mails and TV

I’ve gotten a couple e-mails about the accident reports story today.

Here’s one:

This just happened (about 2 weeks ago) to me where the officer didn’t file a police report. Officer Boyer. It was only minor damage but the driver drove off from the scene and I followed him as I called 911. This guy that hit me told his insurance company that he never hit me. His P.O.S. car didn’t have a lot of damage. The investigation clearly showed paint from my car on his and his paint on mine. The person that hit me didn’t get a ticket for leaving the scene of an accident. I filed the claim with the other guys insurance thinking they would cover it, the other guy told his insurance company that he never hit me. So at this point they denied my claim. TERRIBLE investigation!!! At this point I would like to file a complaint to the officers superior but I am afraid that it will fall upon deaf ears. Any suggestions??

And here’s another:

Read your article with interest today. There are many other things that police don’t currently record as reports – I called for help one day because I saw a man threatening a woman in a car and then he followed me when he saw me calling for help. It never showed in the police log because “if we don’t have an officer available, we don’t log it” and he eventually turned off. The man was very threatening and shouting at me, and I was scared to death and relayed his license plate number, but it did no good.

We also had an incident where I filed a report on some criminal mischief – our lawn was killed using bleach and our driveway was smeared with paint. The investigators would never investigate and failed to return many phone calls. We had a pile of evidence – facebook entries and kids statements – saying who did it, and got no satisfaction.

I think it would be very interesting for you to investigate and do a story on what percent of police reports are actually investigated. I know our police are overworked, and I think they’re trying to do the right thing, but I think they get caught in how they’ve always done things and don’t use data to make decisions.

Here’s the video:

Filed under: Cedar Rapids City Council, Public Safety, , , , , , ,

Top 25! (properties that police were called to)

UPDATE: See the addresses mapped out here. Thanks to the commenter for doing this.

Below is a list of the addresses where police were called the most in 2008.

Wellington Heights and Mound View don’t break the top five, but eight properties in that area are in the top 25.

Big stores, the hospitals and high schools fill the top 25. The top residential address is 3000 J St. SW, an apartment complex in southwest Cedar Rapids.

I’ve highlighted the addresses by quadrant: Northeast, Southwest, Southeast. No northwest Cedar Rapids properties are in the top 25.

And I’ve underlined all the addresses that can be reasonably considered to be part of the area police have cracked down on in recent weeks. (First Avenue East between 12th and 20th Streets.)

Total Calls, Address, Location
342, 4444 1st Ave. E, Lindale Mall
335, 3601 29th Ave. SW, Wal-Mart Southwest
331, 3000 J St. SW, Apartments
313, 1026 A Ave. NE, St. Luke’s Hospital
281, 2645 Blairs Ferry Rd. NE, Wal-Mart Northeast
260, 701 10th St. SE, Mercy Medical Center
242, 1556 1st Ave. E, Hy-Vee
197, 2600 Edgewood Rd. SW, Westdale Mall
185, 1430 1st Ave. E, Road Ranger
167, 3325 Southgate Ct. SW, Motel 6
155, 1263 1st Ave. E, Apartments
151, 310 5th Ave. SE, Geneva Tower
140, 3100 16th Ave. SW, Budget Inn
128, 20 Wilson Ave. SW, Hy-Vee
124, 1261 1st Ave. E, Apartments
121, 1407 3rd Ave. SE, Apartments

121, 1415 Bever Ave. SE, Apartments
119, 1243 20th St. SW, Jefferson HS

112, 2030 Glass Rd. NE, Apartments
111, 4600 1st Ave. E, Sears
111, 401 76th Ave. SW, College Community Schools
107, 5910 4th St. SW, Lumberyard

107, 4545 Wenig Rd. NE, Kennedy High School
106, 1323 1st Ave. E, Who’s on First
105, 2205 Forest Dr. SE, Washington HS

105, 1530 1st Ave. E, McDonald’s

The following calls for service were removed from the total count as they were self-initiated or initiated by the officer. These calls included:Bar Checks; Business Checks; Traffic Stops; Accidents; School Checks; Motel Checks; Foot Patrols; Cops Projects; Selective Enforcement Projects; Transport Prisoners; Meet Officer; Investigation; Street Storage.

Thanks to Sgt. Cristy Hamblin for getting me this list.

Filed under: Cedar Rapids City Council, , , , , ,

Broken glass in the flood zone

Got a story coming out about it in Saturday’s paper. A group is meeting at the Oakhill/Jackson community garden at 9 a.m. to sweep through that neighborhood and clean up glass.

Here’s a quick video outlining the problem:

Filed under: Cedar Rapids City Council, Flood

Landlords give their side

The newspaper story today about a licensing program for landlords in Cedar Rapids brought some reaction from landlords.

The proposed program is one of several responses to the recent spate of crime in Wellington Heights and Mound View.

Doug Jones, a landlord who called me this morning, said evicting someone usually takes three weeks, a trip to court and $200, whether or not landlords are licensed.

Leave the policing to the police, he said, and leave the landlording to the landlords.

“They want us to be able to supervise people and we can’t do that,” he said.

He gave me an eviction scenario that he said was not uncommon. A tenant is causing problems, and he needs him to get out.

“You say ‘Get out.'”

“The guy says ‘F— you.'”

“What are you going to do, shoot him?” Jones asks.

Of course not, he said. You have to take him to court, and pay a bunch of fees. That’s state law.

The father of the owner of a rental property I mentioned in the story, 1502 Fourth Ave. SE, said it’s a hard to find good tenants.

“You try to rent to people that desperately need a house, and you have a problem,” he said.

If you try to evict them, they mess up the house.

“To find decent tenants is a hard job,” he said.

Filed under: Cedar Rapids City Council, , , , , ,

Pinning down the landlords

Take for instance 1502 Fourth Ave. SE.

Since 1992, the home has been the site of at least six assaults, and people living there have been arrested three times for burglary, seven times for assault, once for a robbery and three times on drug charges.

The home, owned by David E. Hartley, is not the only landlord-owned property in southeast Cedar Rapids with problems.

Landlords are coming under scrutiny in Cedar Rapids after a spring rise in violence on both sides of First Avenue East.

Landlord indifference is a major part of the problem, said Terry Bilsland, president of the Wellington Heights Neighborhood Association.

“As long as the check comes, they don’t care who lives there,” he said. “On some streets, it’s the same houses year after year.”

The City of Cedar Rapids may soon require landlords to get city licenses and follow certain rules to keep their registration.

“We’re looking at the possibility of enacting some legislation where landlords have to be licensed,” Cedar Rapids Police Chief Greg Graham said. “We’re actually right in the middle now of drafting that legislation.”

Licensing might be reassessed each year, and landlords might be required to include a crime-free addendum on their leases. The license would cost a nominal fee.

The program would allow all city departments — police, code enforcement, housing — to easily share information about properties.

Other cities across the country have similar programs, said Tim Manz, Cedar Rapids’ interim code enforcement manager. One of those is Richfield, Minn., where City Manager Jim Prosser worked before he came to Cedar Rapids.

Once a draft of an ordinance is ready, Manz said it will be shown to landlord groups and other interested parties.

“We’re at least a month away from having the language ready,” he said.

A spate of shootings and robberies, a fatal car chase and a life-threatening attack on a police officer in recent weeks have brought a police crackdown to the Wellington Heights and Mound View Neighborhoods, but also a sense of urgency for local leaders and elected officials looking for solutions.

The Cedar Rapids Civil Rights Commission held a forum Tuesday at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church, where Graham mentioned the possibility of landlord licensing.

“It’s a step we can take in bringing a little more accountability,” City Council Member Brian Fagan said. “Landlords are and can be part of the solution.”

Filed under: Cedar Rapids City Council, , , , , ,

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