Yesterday morning I attended a meeting at Fairmeadows Park organized by neighbors of a group called "Bringing It Together" (BIT) headed by Brandi Mastain in the Grant Wood school area who are concerned by recent outbreaks in crime in their area. Also in attendance were four Iowa City Council members: Mike Wright, Regina Bailey, Ross Wilburn, and Connie Champion; Acting City Manager, Dale Helling; Police Chief, Sam Hargadine and several of his officers; Neighborhood Services Coordinator, Marcia Bollinger in addition to 125 to 150 people mostly from the area.
The group, made up almost entirely of homeowners, were concerned about lawlessness in their part of the community and their frustration with the city's efforts to curb it. About 1/2 when asked by a show of hands if they had witnessed young people "wandering" until after midnight in mass and being disruptive held up their hands. About a 1/10 had experienced "severe issues" such as property damage or other disturbances. What was of most concern were 6 reported cases of gunfire in the last year and 4 within the last month, as well as an increase in breaking and entering charges (43) this year and that crime generally was higher in their area than in all of others of the city.
According to Mastain, the seriousness of what is happening in their area of town is a "bigger issue than college kids binge drinking downtown." Many of the crowd expressed a frusttration that their area was not receiving more help because for the majority of Iowa Citians, it doesn't affect them.
They asked the Police Chief Hargadine if a curfew could be put in place. The chief explained that he recommended a delinquent behavior ordinance instead because of the enforcement issues of a curfew. When asked if the city council was considering this, Hargadine said it had not been formally brought to the council which elicited groans from the crowd.
Neighbors did commend the police department for having foot patrols in the community, but were concerned by the lack of coverage between 11 pm and 3 am due to policing calls from downtown bars. The Chief agreed that the force was spread thin, but did say if his office receives calls, his officers respond as quickly as they can. He did say that he was 15 officers short of the staff he felt he needed. A member of the audience asked the chief if residents in the area could assist the officers on patrol and Chief Hargadine encouraged the questioner to contact his office.
The neighbors commented on the amount of section 8 and public housing in their area. They mentioned the influx of out-of-state people showing up as unfair to Iowa City residents and Iowans who should receive top priority. They also mentioned the perception that people are being told to come here that there is a "billboard in Chicago advertising to come here." Mastain asked the person to bring proof of this. She said that property values are being devalued by the crime and presence of section 8 housing.
When pressed by Carol Kula, a high school teacher and resident in the area to give the crowd something concrete to take away from the meeting so they wouldn't feel like thy had "wasted their time being there," Mastain encouraged people to join their group and to go before city council on Tuesday night with their concerns. A neighbor mentioned that they should introduce themselves to their neighbors so that they would be able to know who was causing trouble in their neighborhood. Jarrod Gatlin said, "We need to know. Who are these kids?"
The organizers stressed that the meeting was about public safety, not the race of the kids involved in the crime problem, but stressed it was time for the neighbors to "make them uncomfortable; not allow them to make us uncomfortable."
As there were more than three members of the city council present, the members were not allowed to comment on the crowds concerns, but individually, the council members did stay after the meeting to listen and ask questions of those present.
As an observer, it was interesting to note the lack of renters at the meeting. I did speak to Royce Ann Porter briefly who heads a group called Iowa City Community School District Concerned Parents Committee who told me that her group represents low-income residents and has more to say. I'll follow up on this. I noted on the survey that was given to participants of the meeting that the questions were not specific to the type of respondent, but wonder if by the nature of it, only half the story is being told.
I hope that the BIT group will seek out input from the folks who were so clearly not present--I'd guess they would have a better outcome if they brought everyone together--more BITE, as it were.
Other accounts from the Press-Citizen and Gazette