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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

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.

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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, , , , , , , , , , ,

Dog kills cat, dog must go. But must it die?

Mitch Bingham will get a letter later this week ordering him to get rid of his dog.

The Blairstown city council will decide whether that means death or the pound, or a farm in the country for Sam, Bingham’s two-year-old Alaskan husky.

The dog attacked and killed a cat in Blairstown on Monday while Jess Mangiaracina, Bingham’s girlfriend, was taking the dog for a walk.

The dog spotted a cat belonging to Deb Johann, and got excited. It was on a leash, but Mangiaracina was caught by surprise and the dog broke loose and chased the cat, named Jill, toward a tree in front of Johann’s house.

“The dog kind of jumped up and snatched him out of the tree,” Mangiaracina said.
Before long, the cat was dead. Mangiaracina put the cat’s body into a garbage bag, knocked on the door and talked to Johann’s daughter. She then called Johann.

“I apologize, but your cat wasn’t in your yard. It was just running around,” Mangiaracina said.

Johann, who runs a hair salon out of her home, was upset. The cat was nine years old, and had been with the family ever since they’d lost everything in a fire nearly a decade ago. Johann said her cats never leave her yard.

“They might think this was a minor thing,” she said. “It was a cat. But it was our cat, and she didn’t need to die that brutal death.”

She asks that, at a minimum, the dog be taken into the country.

“An animal like that doesn’t belong in town,” she said.

The two families don’t agree on whether the cat was in Johann’s property when the dog spotted it, but when it comes to the dog’s future, it really doesn’t matter.

Blairstown city ordinance requires that if a dog attacks another domestic animal and was “uncontrollable” at the time of the attack, the dog is “vicious” and must either be destroyed or sent to a humane society. Rodney Kubichek, the mayor of Blairstown, said two years ago the city council was lenient and allowed a “vicious” dog simply to be removed from city limits.

“In practice, what’s probably going to happen is he’ll just have to get it out of town,” Kubichek said.

Filed under: Other, , , , , , , , , ,

Round 2 coming for tax sale

The Linn County Treasurer’s Office will hold a second tax sale Aug. 10, because a third of the properties up for sale in June didn’t sell.

Usually everything goes in the first tax sale, Treasurer Mike Stevenson said. This year, about 500 properties went unsold, out of a total of roughly 1,800.

Adair Asset Management, a company that often buys hundreds of properties in tax sales across Iowa, pulled out this year — in Linn County and in other counties. “Their funding fell through,” Stevenson said.

Also, some buyers weren’t interested in flooded properties.

“There’s a lot of flood properties that didn’t get bought,” he said.

Tax sales in Iowa go back at least to 1851. Though the rules vary from county to county and have changed over the years, the annual events attract considerable attention from local and out-of-state investors.

In Linn County, buyers pay $100 for a bidding number. The number goes into a computer lottery, and whoever holds the number can buy a property every time the number is called.
After the winning bidders pay the back taxes on a property, they get a lien on it and collect interest on their investment until the actual owner pays back the tax and interest.

If the property owner doesn’t pay back the bidder in 21 months, the bidder gets the property.

More often, though, the bidder turns a profit by collecting interest on the lien, which is the legal claim the buyer holds on the property until his or her investment is repaid. Iowa law requires the owner to pay the lienholder 2 percent interest per month, or 24 percent annually.

Filed under: County Government, , , , , ,

Fargo flood protection tax passes in landslide

They don’t have a specific plan yet, but voters in Fargo approved a half-cent sales tax on Tuesday to pay for permanent flood protection.

Fresh on the city’s mind is the flood this spring, that required citizens and city workers to build miles of temporary levees out of sandbags and HESCO baskets.

Plans under consideration are a Red River diversion channel through Minnesota, and a $625 million levee system. Fargo’s population is about 90,000.

Filed under: Uncategorized

Escape from Comp Board Island

The job is thankless, unpaid, and requires members to subject themselves to a brutal political firestorm each year. The real news may be that anyone wants to do it.

Two members of the Linn County Compensation Board, which decides how much elected Linn County officials are paid, are giving up their posts. They are Mary Quass, a business owner who lives in Mount Vernon, and Allen Merta, vice president for economic development at Priority One.

The two — both of them were appointed by the supervisors — have asked not to be reappointed to the board, Brent Oleson said at Wednesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting. Their terms ended June 30.

Don Gray, the mayor of Central City who Oleson defeated in the District 4 supervisor race, has agreed to fill one of the empty spots, Oleson said. Amy Reasoner’s name came up as a possibility for the other opening.

Merta was chairman of the board. He and Quass both voted in February to freeze supervisor pay at $87,622, and both voted in 2008 to raise supervisor pay by 6 percent, a move that set off a controversy over supervisor pay that lasted more than a year.

At this year’s meeting, Quass attempted to strike a compromise between the Larry Wear/Dave O’Brien position (major pay cut) and the Ray Stefani/Phil Klinger position (no pay cut). Quass moved to cut supervisor salaries by 10 percent, to roughly $79,000 per year. That motion failed 4-2. Quass and Cedar Rapids attorney Steve Jackson Sr., who was appointed by County Attorney Harold Denton, were the only ones in favor. Quass eventually voted for the pay freeze.

The other two Comp Board members whose terms are up are Klinger, a treasurer appointment, and Wear, an auditor appointment. Klinger will be reappointed. Miller doesn’t know yet if Wear wants to stay on board.

Filed under: County Government, , , , , , , , ,

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, , , , , , , , ,

Details of Becker’s release from hospital remain clouded

The mental health coordinator who was supposedly told that the sheriff’s office should be notified when Mark Becker was released from a Waterloo hospital is Bob Lincoln.

The Butler County Sheriff’s Office says it was not notified, and the hospital, Covenant Medical Center, says it was not asked to notify the sheriff’s office.

Becker shot Aplington-Parkersburg Head Football Coach Ed Thomas to death the next morning, prompting questions about why the 24-year-old wasn’t given more oversight when he was let out of the hospital.

Lincoln does not work for the hospital. He’s an employee of Butler County Community Services and serves as central point coordinator for mental health services. He said Friday he could not comment, and wasn’t aware that the sheriff’s office and hospital have been issuing dueling statements on whether the sheriff should have been notified upon Becker’s release.

A judicial magistrate issued an emergency detention order for Becker on Sunday, asking that he be evaluated. Iowa law required that the hospital release Becker within 48 hours of the order, unless someone had filed an application with the clerk of court stating that Becker was “seriously mentally impaired.” That application would have required a doctor’s written statement to that effect, and supporting affidavits.

The hospital said it released Becker to a “third party” on Tuesdsay, but it’s not clear who that was. It’s also not clear whether he was evaluated after while in the hospital, and what that evaluation revealed.

Lincoln and the hospital are citing HIPAA, the medical privacy laws, as an obstacle to their speaking openly about the case.

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

Would-be midnight intruder gets seven days

Daniel Kvidahl, the man who has been scaring the dickens out of his neighbor over the past six months by trying to get into her home in the middle of the night, will serve six days and six hours in jail after pleading guilty to criminal trespass and public intoxication for a March 31 incident.

Kvidahl was sentenced this morning at a brief court proceeding in the basement of the Palmer Building, 123 Fifth St. SE.

Sara Marino, a divorced mother of two who lives next door to Kvidahl, testified before the sentencing, with Kvidahl sitting a few feet away. The criminal justice system has not been able to keep him from repeatedly acting in a way that seems threatening, she said.

“I would like to have him just stay away,” she said. “He scares me. He scares my kids.”

Kvidahl scoffed at this, and his lawyer touched his arm to restrain him.

Linn County Attorney Nick Scott sought the seven-day jail sentence and a substance abuse evaluation.

“There’s an opportunity for the court to make an impression on the defendant as to the seriousness of the offense,” Scott said. “This is inappropriate behavior, and it should not continue.”

Kvidahl admitted having a problem with alcohol, and said he’s taking medication and attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.

He said he thought Marino’s house was his own, and tried to enter by mistake, because he was drunk. (It’s worth mentioning here that Marino and Kvidahl have quite different front doors. She has a covered porch, with a few wooden steps up to it. He has no porch, but only a cement pad almost at ground level.)

“I really, really, truly never meant to do no harm,” Kvidahl said. “Anything I have done, I’m truly, truly sorry.”

But he and his attorney argue he shouldn’t be sentenced to jail time. He never has before, in three separate instances where he was arrested on Marino’s property. He said The Gazette’s report about what has transpired between him and Marino, and the embarrassment it caused, has been punishment enough.

“The embarrassment and all the things that I’ve been through is like a punishment in itself,” he said.

The judge, Magistrate Lorraine Machacek, gave Kvidahl the jail sentence prosecutors asked for, citing “some indication” that Kvidahl’s behavior has been repeated and his “extensive criminal history.”

“I quite frankly can’t imagine anything more frightening than to have someone enter my house uninvited when they’re under the influence of alcohol,” she said.

Kvidahl will serve his jail sentence in chunks on weekends.

Filed under: Courts, , , , , , ,

Supes to ask city about federal courthouse

The Linn County Board of Supervisors said they will send a letter to the city on Friday asking if the federal courthouse on First Avenue East will be available as a “potential location” for the juvenile courts system.

Juvenile courts were permanently driven out of the basement of the Linn County Courthouse by last year’s flood, and the supervisors are looking around for a place to put them.

The federal courthouse, which was also damaged in the flood, will come under the city’s control as part of a land swap to give land for a new federal courthouse to the federal government.

The federal courthouse does not appear to be the county’s first choice for juvenile courts, but the supervisors are sending the letter regardless, despite having bowed out of a joint long-term planning process with the city.

“I don’t want the federal courthouse,” Supervisor Brent Oleson said. “It’s 80,000 square feet and it’s on the river. It’s too big.”

Supervisors toured the courthouse earlier in the spring, and were disappointed to find that the federal government left the mechanicals of the building in the basement when it did repairs.

Supervisor Jim Houser, though, pointed out that the building is attractive to the court system because it’s close to the county courthouse, already has courtrooms in it and offers room for expansion, which the courts need.

The supervisors will send the letter in an effort, at very least, to “dispose of options” that might be brought up in the public sphere over the next few months.

Their first choice right now is to build a new juvenile courts building on the site of the Freeway Lounge on Eighth Avenue SW. The county owns the space, and will get an engineering firm to do a feasibility study to see if a juvenile courts building will fit there. Results should be back by next week.

Filed under: County Government

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