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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

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

Reality and the Chicago connection

Eastern Iowa fears of the Chicago migration are nothing new, and they’re beginning to become cyclical. This is the lead of a big Sunday story in The Gazette on Aug. 18, 2003:

Christina McGowan remembers well those days when she lived on Chicago’s south side. She was called First Lady. She was respected and feared. She had money….

McGowan, 26, and her three children live in a two-bedroom Cedar Rapids apartment across the street from a cornfield, eking out a much more meager, but quieter, living.

“I am on my way to that happy ending, so to speak,” said McGowan, who moved to the area last year. “I think I was supposed to be dead or in jail right now.”

McGowan is among a growing number of new Eastern Iowans moving to the Cedar Rapids-Iowa City Technology Corridor who are fleeing the poverty and crime of inner cities.

Many are coming from Chicago, which is displacing families while tearing down its projects and replacing them with mixed-income town houses. The majority are African-American families – typically single mothers with children.

But I just got off the telephone with a woman named Susan Popkin, and she doesn’t buy the notion that black people have left Chicago in large numbers as housing projects have been torn down.

Popkin is a senior fellow at the Urban Institute in Washington D.C., and she’s been tracking Chicago public housing for almost a decade. People who left Chicago’s old public housing have largely moved to other parts of Chicago, or the south suburbs, she said.

“They have not moved to Iowa,” she said. “They’re in Chicago.”

The gentrification of Chicago is the driving force behind any migration, she said.

Popkin admits no weaknesses in the Section 8 subsidized housing program that several people around here blame for importing Chicago problems into Eastern Iowa cities, except this:

High concentrations of Section 8 vouchers in one neighborhood can ruin a neighborhood, Popkin said. This is the contention of Dale Todd, a Wellington Heights resident who grew up in Chicago and moved to Cedar Rapids in 1974.

“When we develop concentrations of Section 8 housing…it can have a negative impact on the people we’re trying to help,” he said. “The inability of regular landlords to rent in that neighborhood forces them to turn to Section 8. It’s a cycle.”

Popkin said it’s up to the local housing authority to be prudent in how it directs the vouchers. This requires outreach to new landlords, so more will accept them, so the vouchers will be spread out evenly across a community.

“When you have a modest number of voucher holders in a neighborhood it’s often good for property values because it’s a guaranteed income stream for landlords,” she said.

Filed under: Cedar Rapids Library, 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, , , , , , , ,

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 adam.belz@gazcomm.com

Filed under: Cedar Rapids City Council, Public Safety

Paraplegic accused in domestic is breaking the jail’s bank

Correction: This blog post was badly incorrect until 5:15 p.m. Tuesday, when I changed it.

Kruse’s insurance company covered his medical expenses during his time at University Hospitals and Clinics in Iowa City, not county taxpayers.

Also, the cost of Kruse’s care provided at the Iowa Medical and Classification Center in Oakdale is about $900 a day, compared to about $3,000 a day at University Hospitals.

A month after he crashed his car in a high-speed police chase and was paralyzed from the waist down, Shawn Kruse is costing Linn County taxpayers more than $900 per day.

The 32-year-old from Cedar Rapids is accused of hitting his wife with an unknown weapon and using a crowbar and a hack saw to intimidate her before he fled from police May 31. In the ensuing chase, which reached speeds of 110 mph, Kruse’s vehicle hit a guardrail on Highway 30, went airborne and rolled into the ditch.

Kruse was later charged with first-degree kidnapping and going armed with intent for the domestic incident. He also was badly injured, taken to University Hospitals in Iowa City, and lost the use of his legs.

When he was released from the hospital Friday, he was taken to the Iowa Medical and Classification Center, a prison with medical facilities in Oakdale, just north of Iowa City.

“We are not able to give him the 24-hour care he requires,” Sheriff Brian Gardner said, who oversees the Linn County Jail. “We actually worked out a deal with Oakdale. We’re paying them a large sum of money to handle his medical care.”

What President Barack Obama calls one of the most important challenges of our time, how to pay for health care, extends even to people behind bars, and Kruze’s case provides an extreme example.

“Most health insurance companies have a clause written into their policies that says if you are incarcerated, we cancel your coverage,” said Linn County Sheriff Brian Gardner.

County taxpayers pay for medical care for inmates. The Sheriff’s Office budgeted $247,000 this year to pay for doctor visits and medication.

The bill for Kruse was over $3,000 per day when he was in the hospital, Gardner said, because of the many, expensive medications he requires. His insurance company covered those costs until he was taken to Oakdale, where the same treatments cost about $900 per day.

“This is definitely going to impact our budget,” Gardner said.

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

911 tapes released in Ed Thomas shooting

Dispatcher: “Butler County 911.”

Daryl Myers: “This is Daryl Myers. I work for the school. We, uh, had, a, I think a shooting right now in the bus barn down at the high school.”

Dispatcher: “Where at?”

Myers: “At Parkersburg.”

Dispatcher: “Yeah, at the high school where?”

Myers: “Uh, in the bus barn.”

Dispatcher: “In the bus barn? Do you know who it was?”

Myers: “No I don’t, uh, kids just come running out and said somebody shot Ed Thomas.”

Dispatcher: “Ed Tho—! OK.”

Myers: “And they’re still in the building.”

Dispatcher: “They’re in the building?

Myers: “Yeah.”

Dispatcher: “All right. All right. We’ll get someone right there.”

The Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation on Friday released dramatic 911 tapes in which shocked but calm residents of Parkersburg report the fatal shooting of iconic high school football coach Ed Thomas. Mark Becker, 24, is charged with first-degree murder in Thomas’ death.

The tapes — three of five are intelligible — show concerns about a slow ambulance response and less-than-perfect communication between emergency responders.

The DCI withheld six 911 tapes, contending they contain information that’s part of the ongoing criminal investigation.

In one tape, Police Chief Chris Luhring told dispatchers he couldn’t reach an ambulance by radio.

“This is going to be a load and go. When they come in here and load that cot up, you’re out of here,” Police Chief Chris Luhring said.

The dispatcher told Luhring that a helicopter would be there in 15 minutes, and then the dispatchers spent a few seconds tracking down a cell phone number for someone in the ambulance.

In another call, Leah Vanderholt called 911 because several students had fled the weight room where Thomas was shot and were gathered at a house nearby.

“We can see the building right now, and all we see is a police blazer. We don’t see any ambulances, we don’t see anything,” Vanderholt told the dispatcher.

“The ambulance is on the way right now,” the dispatcher said. “They had a hard time getting a crew, but they are on the way. We also have paramedics that have been en route for about ten minutes.”

Vanderholt told the dispatcher the address of the home where she and the kids were waiting, and the dispatcher asked them not to leave until police arrived, and they had spoken with the officers.

Filed under: Public Safety, , , , , ,

The facts don’t lie, dude

I’ve been noticing something today about the crime is declining story I wrote for the newspaper.

A lot of people don’t believe it.

Now don’t get me wrong, I know police had to chase down a woman after she tried to steal a bunch of meat from Hy-Vee (“Desperate times,” said Lt. Tobey Harrison. “You just never know.”), but when we try to identify whether crime is on the rise or on the decline, we have to use numbers.

The numbers are not perfect. For instance, some people have pointed out that if we want a true picture of how crime-ridden our town is today, we have to compare it to the 1990s or earlier. But Cedar Rapids police don’t have crime stats broken down by month from before 2006. This reflects a lack of PD transparency in past years. It also means I can’t compare the first six months of this year to the first six months of, say, 1995.

It’s quite possible that crime has increased so dramatically since the good old days of the 1990s that a few years of declining crime rates means very little. But the fact is that rates of assault, robbery, theft and homicide have declined not only since last year but also since 2006.

The story doesn’t get into this detail, but from the first half of 2006 to the first half of 2009, reported thefts dropped by 32 percent, assault by 18 percent and robbery by 23 percent. There were three homicides in the first six months of 2006, two in the first six months of this year.

It’s also possible police doctor the crime statistics they keep, but it seems like it would be counterproductive for them, and I doubt it. (If you know better, please prove me wrong.)

Anyone who would like to see the documents that show crime’s decline in C.R. should e-mail me at adam.belz@gazcomm.com and I’d be glad to share them. It’s too much of a hassle to post them to Scribd, because there are too many pages.

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

Hey! Crime is actually down in Cedar Rapids

It has declined dramatically.

The six-month crime statistics, released into my hot hands by police Wednesday, refute the popular perception (see soundbite from wild-eyed resident on local telecast) that crime is out of control and the city is growing less safe.

Compared to the first six months of 2008, robberies dropped by 36 percent. Theft dropped 35 percent. Assault dropped 14 percent. Burglary dropped 13 percent. Homicide held steady. There were two by the end of June in 2008, and there have been two so far this year (one of those, the Cain-and-Abel stabbing of Matthew Hanson by his brother Jason, was reduced in court to voluntary manslaughter and willful injury).

So things aren’t too bad.

“This is the difference between perception and reality,” said Sgt. Cristy Hamblin, spokeswoman for the Cedar Rapids Police.

Perception may have been skewed by the flareup of crime along First Avenue East that culminated in the life-threatening, community-wrenching, civil society-defying attack on Officer Tim Davis on March 29. He was assaulted while trying to break up an armed robbery, was injured very badly, was hospitalized for several weeks, was later fitted with a titanium plate in his skull, and now his return to the police force is uncertain.

Police responded by descending on Wellington Heights and Mound View, the neighborhoods that flank First Avenue from Coe College up to 19th Street.

They handed out jaywalking and loitering tickets and arrested 148 people in three weeks. Chief Greg Graham announced the department would open a new substation at the corner of First Avenue East and 15th Street in an effort to build trust among police, business owners and local residents.

But amid the community forums, marches against violence and calls for greater landlord accountability, 2009 has so far been a better year than 2008.

It’s also been better than 2006 — the earliest year for which police keep monthly crime stats — when there were 611 assaults reported by the end of June, compared to 413 this year.

“The officers are being more proactive, more directed, more focused on what they’re doing,” Capt. Bernie Walther, head of criminal investigation for the Cedar Rapids police, said. “They’re out there walking, making contact with the public.”

He said the assault on Davis was a “wakeup call” and the flurry of activity in subsequent weeks was the community’s response, but he rejects the widespread view that crime has been on the uptick.

“The bad stuff makes the headlines, and that’s what people see,” he said. “Between the city being brought down with the flood, with the economy, I think people are somewhat pessimistic and somewhat more likely to believe that things are worse than they really are.

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

Glass Rd. murder victim may have been out-of-towner

No arrests have been made in the shooting death of Dominique Mosby next to a patio outside an apartment along Glass Road on Friday night.

It’s not clear Mosby even lived in Cedar Rapids, and it’s not clear anyone even used the apartment where he was shot as a primary residence.

The 22-year-old victim’s family is in Chicago, police say, and the family hadn’t seen him in a couple of weeks. He died from gunshot wounds after a dice game.

Mosby had been in Eastern Iowa before. He had a Linn County warrant for his arrest, for failure to appear for possession of controlled substance and interference with official acts, related to an incident that occurred in September 2006. A few days later, in Johnson County, he was charged with consumption of alcohol. He was 20 at the time.

“The victim’s not a tenant,” said Jess Hebdon, property manager at Cedarwood Hills. “I’ve never heard his name before.”

Hebdon wouldn’t give the name of the man who lives at 2030 Glass Rd. NE, No. 105, the apartment outside of which Mosby was shot to death. He said, however, he thinks the tenant has left town.

Police aren’t sure who actually lived there.

“We’re still trying to figure out for sure who is on the lease,” Welsh said.

Tenants near the scene of the shooting said the patio outside Apartment 105 was often the site of dice games, but nobody admits to knowing the people who lived there.

“When there’s a group of six or seven people sitting there with stacks of money like this, playing dice…it’s not the kind of people you want to get mixed up with,” said a man who declined to give his name but lives in an apartment nearby.

He said police took into custody the “only person I’ve ever seen” in Apartment 105 on Friday night, though he didn’t know the man’s name.

As usual, I’m asking for your help as we try to cover this story. Would like to hear your questions, and your answers. Hopefully a search warrant will be filed today.

Here are some questions I’m considering going forward:

1. Who lived at the apartment?
2. Where is he/she now? Was he/she questioned?
3. How long had Mosby been in Cedar Rapids?
4. How often do police have this problem, an uncooperative pool of witnesses?
5. What are their strategies for overcoming that?
6. Was there an argument preceding the shooting? What about?

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

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