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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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Kids at Franklin raise money for Officer Davis

Students at Franklin Middle School have raised more than $2,000 to help Cedar Rapids Police Officer Tim Davis and his family.

The school community, coordinated by the Franklin African American Awareness Program, held a fund drive that raised $1487 from students; $313 from staff and $90 from the school’s student council.

“During lunch periods students spend a week collecting donations of coins, bills, and checks for the Davis family,” noted Kathy Dvoark, activities coordinator. ”A friendly competition between students in the cafeteria resulted in an ice cream celebration for some.”

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I got slapped with a jaywalking ticket

I didn’t go into it trying to trap the police in a double standard, but that’s how it now looks.

I was walking down 15th Street SE off First Avenue with three people — two women who wouldn’t tell me their names and a man named Marcus Hicks.

They were angry that the cops have been cracking down in southeast Cedar Rapids. They were especially irked that cops were handing out jaywalking tickets for people who walked across residential streets to their car, or their neighbor’s house.

We came to the corner of Fifth Avenue SE, and there in the 1400 block of the avenue were three squad cars, and groups of people gathered on porches on both sides of the street. Other than the cops and a toothy, moustached guy with a seven-foot high fence in his small front yard and no less than six growling dogs pacing on the packed dirt behind it, I was the only white guy around.

The woman with me suggested I jaywalk to see if they’d give me a ticket like they did for the black people who’d received tickets earlier. I walked on a diagonal line across the street and a police officer called me over. After a brief exchange with the lieutenant, who was sitting in a squad car to the rear of the others, I was stuck in the back of a squad car for a few minutes and issued a citation for failing to use a crosswalk.

No, I haven’t started working for KGAN.

I deliberately jaywalked without thinking too much about it, but then realized as I was halfway across the police had no choice but to give me a ticket. And that’s what they did. Partly I didn’t believe they were actually citing people for crossing what’s essentially a two-lane residential street. (Have we seen any jaywalking tickets issued in Bowman Woods? I bet not.)

Twenty minutes later, the police were gone. As I was talking to some of the young men who’d had their basketball hoop carried away (it was sitting on the city’s right-of-way and nobody was claiming it), the same police officer called me and said I could tear up the ticket. Judges have thrown out lots of charges like that, he said, and he shouldn’t have issued it to me because I was not “impeding traffic.”

That was the difference, he said, between my citation and the other two citations he handed out before I got there.

This of course did not go over well with the crowd in front of 1417 Fifth Ave. SE. They insisted there had been no cars coming when the others received their citations.

One of them was Damita Mims, who said no way, no cars were coming.

The department is now looking into this.

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

Using loose definition, police say C.R. has gangs

There are gangs in Cedar Rapids, Sgt. Cristy Hamblin, the spokeswoman for Cedar Rapids police, says.

“Yeah. Fifteen, twenty years ago, we would have said no,” she said. Now “I don’t think we have any street officers who’d tell you there are not.”

This is something people who live in southeast Cedar Rapids deny, but Hamblin uses a loose definition.

“Whenever you have a group of individuals gather together for criminal activities, they are a gang,” she said.

The three juveniles who are charged in connection with injuries Officer Tim Davis suffered late Sunday were robbing someone in concert, Hamblin said.

Davis is still unconscious and still not communicating, Hamblin said.

She said she did not know if he was struck more than once, or whether he was hit with a gun or a fist.

“We’re still trying to piece that together,” she said. “I don’t know.”

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

Officer Davis was popular in Wellington Heights

Cedar Rapids Police Officer Tim Davis, who was found unconscious after he and Officer Tracy Brumbaugh broke up a robbery in progress late Sunday, was popular with teenagers in Wellington Heights.

A 17-year-old named Jose Rockiett has been charged with first-degree robbery and willful injury in the episode that left Davis with apparently severe head injuries at the corner of A Avenue and 16th Street NE.

According to Jagarius Bell, 17, who was acquainted with the boys involved in the robbery, Davis was a good cop — flexible, respectful and friendly.

“He was never one of those uptight cops,” Bell said. “He was a cool dude. I feel bad for him and his family and I wish the best for them.”

Hundreds attended a service for Davis Wednesday night, and a fund has been set up at Collins Community Credit Unions for anyone who wants to help offset Davis family expenses. Police have not released his specific condition.

“The support from the community has been phenomenal,” said Cedar Rapids police Sgt. Cristy Hamblin. “Requests of help have poured in to the department.”

What’s less well known is that Davis had a good relationship with the community that’s now under more vigorous police scrutiny than it’s been under for months.

People like Bell and his friends think he was injured after the robbery because Rockiett didn’t know who Davis was, panicked, slugged him one time and ran. Davis and his partner responded to a mugging in an unmarked car, wearing plain clothes.

The police version of events is so far vague: Davis and Brumbaugh responded to the mugging in the 1600 block of First Avenue NE at 10:56 p.m. Sunday. They located three suspects at the corner of A Avenue and 16th Street NE, and two of the suspects ran. Brumbaugh ran after the two, while Davis stayed with the third — apparently Rockiett.

When officers returned to the squad car, Davis was unconscious with severe head injuries. He underwent three hours of surgery at University Hospitals on Monday.

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

Police cracking down on southeast CR

With sweeping patrols and vigorous enforcement of even small infractions, police are locking down sections of Cedar Rapids in the days after Officer Tim Davis was found unconscious next to his squad car late Sunday.

On average, police are reporting 25 percent more arrests per day this week than last. They’ve issued jaywalking tickets to people who cross residential streets in southeast Cedar Rapids.

“Over the past two months, we’ve seen an increase in streetside crime,” Lt. Chuck Mincks said. “What we’re really here to do is to show the public that this is still their neighborhood.”

I’m working on a story about this, and will be posting all day to the blog. Check back, tell your story, let me know what you think.

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

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