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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

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.

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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, , , , , , , , ,

A lesbian, but not a “known” one

My editor has posted a blog item stating that it was a poor way to put it when I wrote that Amy L. Gephart was a “known lesbian.” Considering the multitude of objections to the phrase, I agree with him. It has distracted and detracted from a story that I worked hard on and was proud of.

People have interpreted “known” as a pejorative, like a “known bank robber,” “known philanderer,” or “known failure.” I guess I can see that, but I would like to point out that the word also has a literal meaning. Gephart is “known” to be a lesbian. The words are a hedge, to show that it is not the reporter, Adam Belz, who is claiming this is a fact. Instead of attributing Gephart’s sexual orientation directly to my own imagination or to any of the several people who begged me not to attribute it to them, I tried to couch it in terms of a fact that is well-known in a small town.

That was my mistake and what brought out all the boo-birds. I should have said simply that she is a lesbian, which brings me to the other objection that’s been raised: Why mention it at all?

There are crazy, but strong rumors in Marengo that Amy Gephart’s sexual orientation may be extremely relevant in her killing. That’s why.

Hope that helps explain the usage. All that being said, the word “known” has been removed from the online version.

Filed under: Public Safety, , , , , ,

2008: The Sunday after, strike teams in Time Check

7 a.m., Sun., June 15 —- The Iowa River crested at 31.5 feet in Iowa City that day, and UI President Sally Mason announced the Hancher Auditorium was likely flooded up to the concert stage.

Strike teams assembled in Cedar Rapids, where the water was already back down to 25 feet, to go through the flooded neighborhoods and determine which homes were safe to return to, which were not.

Cedar Rapids firefighter Corey Archer was assigned to the Time Check neighborhood. “They called it Alpha sector,” he said.

The sun shone through the shade of the trees onto a neighborhood that was heavy with dampness and smeared with muck.

Hustling house to house, breaking through doors into wrecked living rooms and kitchens, it struck Archer as ironic that the only things inhabiting the streets were the occasional cat – and thousands of dead nightcrawlers.

“Those were beautiful summer days, and nobody’s around,” Archer said.

He saw boats wedged onto front porches, Yardy carts hanging on stop signs, garages relocated down streets.

“We would literally find logs three feet in diameter shoved in windows,” he said.

What he’ll never forget, what all of Cedar Rapids may not forget for decades, was the smell. The smell of dead worms, broken refrigerators, wet pet food and especially the who-knows-what of the muck that cooked on the ground as a warm spell followed the previous week’s torrential rain into Eastern Iowa.

Many of those on the strike teams simply threw away their clothes afterward.

Archer said one scene caused him and his colleagues to stop and watch. It was a pile of fish, some living, some dead, fighting for water in a small pool above a storm drain partially blocked by a sheet of plywood.

Three days before, the water had been ten feet deep. Now it was a diminishing puddle at the end of J Avenue NW. Bigger fish were jockeying for space and smaller fish were piled up dead around the perimeter.

“All these fish are in there, swimming and fighting and rotting,” he said.

Eventually someone pulled up the plywood, and the remaining water and fish dropped into the storm drain.
The survivors, Archer assumes, swam back to the river.

Filed under: Flood, , , , ,

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, , , , , , , , ,

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, , , , , , , , , , ,

Hot Property #1: 1410 Bever Ave. SE

1410 Bever Ave. SE

1410 Bever Ave. SE

This is the address that got 71 police calls in 2008.

It’s a white two-story house owned by Vinnie Huskey Properties LLC, a company incorporated under Kevin Bachus, with a home office in Solon.

The home is right next to the Rose Apartments and it’s supposed to be empty. The city’s housing code enforcement office has posted a big yellow placard on the front door that says the place is “unsafe” and “unsanitary” and should not be lived in. The date of the notice is Feb. 27, 2009.

So imagine my surprise when I’m standing on the front porch, writing this down, and I hear somebody coughing inside. (Sorry. I didn’t knock.) All the windows are blocked with blankets, so you can’t see anything inside, but the place is run-down and the yard is mostly bare dirt.

The street was empty, pretty much, except for an old guy with a big beard sitting on his porch a few houses down on the opposite side of the street. He pointed out that several homes on Bever Avenue there are empty.

A man was stabbed in the chest at 1410 Bever Ave. SE in early February. It was the site of a shootout in May 2006, and the site of various assaults and other problems over the years.

Check out the Top 100 map here. When I profile a property, I’m going to mark it red on the map to and link back to my blog. Zoom in to your neighborhood and check it out.

Also, leave a comment. I’m going to try to talk to as many owners and tenants as I can.

Update: Police checked this house this afternoon and didn’t find anything, after a neighbor called in that somebody might be in there. Police said that while nobody was in there, somebody could well have been earlier. I’ve called Mr. Bachus and left a message, but haven’t gotten a call back.

Filed under: Uncategorized, , , , , , , ,

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, , , , , ,

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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