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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

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.

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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, , , , , , , ,

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, , , , , , , , ,

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, , , , , , , , ,

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, , , , , , ,

Hot Property #7: Commonwealth Apartments

The Commonwealth Apartment at 1400 Second Ave. SE rank seventh among residential properties that police were called to most often in 2008.

Police were called there 93 times. Considering the seven-story brick building has 110 apartments in it, that’s not an astonishing number of police calls. Rent (which is by the week) at the place is in the $600/month range.

The building is owned by WDJ Investments, and the manager is Jeff Frese.

I don’t see anything terribly shocking about the building in the archives, but the building does have an interesting history.

It was built in 1925, and at one point (hard to imagine now) there was a baseball park near it. It was supposed to be really fancy, with a 20-foot ceiling in the lobby. The art deco building was considered the height of luxury. The six stories were a self-contained community with its own dining room and laundry service.

Writer John Goulet lived there as a boy in the 1950s. Katherine Morrison, a resident there in the 1940s, was the first Eastern Iowa woman accepted by
the WAVES, the women’s division of the United States Navy.

In 1998, Bill and Donna Frese, then the new owners of the building, hoped to restore some of the building’s Jazz Age opulence.

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

Hot Property #6, 300 31st St. NE

And we’re back! Back on the tail of Cedar Rapids landlords who own properties that can’t stop attracting the police. Sorry for the delay. We’ve still got a map, and we’re up to property number six.

It’s the Flagstone Apartments at 300 31st St. NE.

Police were called there 99 times in 2008. There are 16 apartments at that address.

Most of what I see in the archives looks like minor stuff.

Gordon Duncombe, the owner, has an office in St. Michael, Minn. The name of his company is Can-West Management.

“We have a lot of people that the county put in there,” Duncombe said. “They get stupid and they call the cops on each other.”

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

Woman terrified after man’s second criminal trespass charge on her property

I met a woman on Friday who is scared of her neighbor. Since he moved in next door in December, she says he has tried to get into her house at least three times.

The problem is she can’t get a restraining order because she has no relationship with him. And police have charged him with criminal trespass, a simple misdemeanor, twice, in addition to several public intoxication charges.

I’m leaving out names for now, but I wonder if any other woman has had this problem, where she feels threatened by a man she doesn’t know personally, but has no recourse for separating herself from him in any significant, lasting way.

According to police:

In January, a little after 11 p.m., the woman heard someone knocking on the door and jiggling the door handle. (She has two small children.) Police came, charged the neighbor with public intoxication, and issued him a warning to stay off her property.

Then in March, she heard someone knocking on the door after 12:30 a.m. She thought it was her neighbor, and called police. When they arrived, he was asleep on her front porch. He was arrested for public intox and charged with criminal trespass as well because he had been warned in January to stay off her property.

In early May, a little after 4 p.m., she called police and told them her neighbor had tried to walk into her home. When police arrived, the neighbor was in a verbal argument with the woman’s landlord. He was charged again with criminal trespass. Police went back out there four hours later and looked to see if the lock on the screen door was actually broken, because she said he had broken it to get in. It was broken.

The man has already pled guilty to criminal trespass, criminal mischief for the lock and interference with official acts for the May incident. He wasn’t charged with anything more than criminal mischief because in order to charge someone with burglary, police have to prove intent to steal something or hurt somebody.

The March incident is going to trial, and yesterday, after I talked to the county attorney’s office (could be coincidence) the prosecutor filed a notice stating intent to seek jail time on the first criminal trespass charge.

One of the only ways for prosecutors to raise the stakes on this stuff is to charge the man with stalking, which requires that he has established a “course of conduct … that would cause a reasonable person to fear bodily injury.”

It requires two or more instances. So there are already two instances, but no stalking charge.

As a commenter pointed out on http://www.gazetteonline.com, here’s what one lady did to solve a more serious problem.

Let me know if you have any thoughts on this. A comment would be good, so would an e-mail: adam.belz@gazcomm.com

Filed under: Courts, 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, , , , , , ,

Evictions not easy, landlords say

Below is a story I’m working on. Any ideas? Jim Cannon, I know you’re out there!

Eleven years ago, one of Keith Smith’s tenants fell a couple months behind paying rent, and Smith prepared to evict the resident.

He hired a lawyer and took the case to small claims court. But a judge threw out the eviction because Smith filled out the paperwork incorrectly.

“It was the only case I’ve ever had thrown out, and it was a very expensive education,” said Smith, now the president of Landlords of Linn County.

Some 2,188 evictions were filed in Linn County in 2008, and another 710 in Johnson County. More than 60 percent resulted either in an eviction or the landlord dropping the eviction.

That left about 1,000 cases last year in the Corridor where the landlord and tenant duked it out in court. Landlords say these cases can be complicated and expensive.

A spring flurry of crime in some Cedar Rapids neighborhoods has pushed landlords into the spotlight, as neighborhood advocates and police ask them to take more responsibility for their properties.

In April, Terry Bilsland, president of the Wellington Heights Neighborhood Association, accused some landlords of being indifferent to the neighborhoods where they own property.

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

The city is considering a requirement that landlords obtain city licenses and follow certain rules to keep their registrations — such as including a crime-free addendum on the lease or running background checks when tenants apply.

Tenants can be evicted for not paying rent, violating their lease, or posing a “clear and present” public safety danger. Landlords must serve a specific notices for each type of eviction and explain specifically what the tenant can do to fix the problem.

A mistake — not notifying a tenant she has three days to pay unpaid rent, or attempting to charge late fees over $40 — will lead to the case being thrown out.

“The biggest roadblock is not knowing what to do,” Smith said.
Smith maintains a 25-page document detailing each step of the eviction process.

Even in cases where police decide the tenant poses a clear and present danger, an officer must attend the court proceeding to testify against the tenant. Because in American courts the accused has right to confront her accuser, a letter from the police isn’t adequate.

“You can’t cross-examine that piece of paper,” said Jim Kringlen, managing attorney for Iowa Legal Aid’s Cedar Rapids office.

Iowa Legal Aid, which offers free legal services to the poor, defends about one tenant in eviction proceedings per week, Kringlen said, and they win most of the cases they take. Eight attorneys work for Legal Aid at the Cedar Rapids office, so they only take cases they think can be won.

“There’re a lot of landlords out there that know how to manage their property, and we don’t see them very often,” Kringlen said. “There’s probably just a certain, small, subset of landlords that aren’t good at managing their property.”

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