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Let the shooting continue: Police Department says the 2008 flood has helped it comply with State Ombudsman’s questions about shooting range

In Police Department on June 17, 2009 at 4:23 pm

Neighbors next to the Police Department’s regional outdoor shooting range have been trying to get someone to do something to quell some of the range’s racket for years.

The Iowa Citizens’ Aide/Ombudsman spent the last couple years reviewing the matter before, in April, sending City Hall a letter suggesting that the shooting range, at 2727 Old River Rd., SW, violated state law.

In the letter, Bert Dalmer, assistant ombudsman, noted that the particular section of state law in question falls under a section of state law that prohibits hunting near buildings and feedlots.

Nonetheless, Dalmer said the law prohibits discharging a firearm within 200 yards of a building “inhabited” by people without the consent of the owner or tenant.

City Hall now has answered back. In short, the city says the shooting will continue.

In a letter to the state office signed by Police Chief Greg Graham, Graham says he “doesn’t necessarily agree” with the office’s analysis.

Graham hones in on the word “inhabited.”

He notes that the 2008 flood drove residents out of two of three homes within 200 yards of the firing range.

A third resident has rebuilt his house, and in this instance, Graham says the Police Department can close down a section of the range so the remainder of the range is not within the 200-yard distance of this residence’s house.

A fourth structure is a truck repair shop, not a residence, and Graham argues that the word “inhabited” only applies to residences.

Don Sedrel, a retired firefighter who has most persistently complained about long hours of racket and some stray bullets, lives farther than 200 yards from the shooting range.

In a return letter to the city, the state’s Dalmer said his office is reviewing the city’s response.

Of note, the city has proposed building a new Public Safety Training Center, perhaps at Kirkwood Community College, that would include a shooting range. In seeking funding for the center, the city has pointed to the state agency’s probe of the current shooting range as a reason to build the new center.

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Jade calls it quits on license tussle with Police Department; she sells her downtown Brick’s Bar & Grill; new owner has license approved

In City Hall, Police Department on May 15, 2009 at 8:36 am

Jade Harper-Hronik, the seemingly battle-weary owner of Bricks Bar & Grill downtown, has thrown in the towel.

In a terse one-sentence note to City Hall, Harper-Hronik has told the Police Department and City Council to forget the fight between the business and the city over the renewal of her liquor license. She has sold the business, she tells the city.

The new owner, Drew Munson, had his application for a liquor license approved by the City Council on Wednesday evening.

Harper-Hronik and the Police Department had been going back and forth for many weeks over the application she submitted for her downtown venue’s annual liquor license renewal.

The department said she had not answered some questions truthfully, while she said she had answered all questions several months ago in an earlier application and that the current application was incomplete.
The City Council asked the department to work with Harper-Hronik, but the department came back with additional questions.

Harper-Hronik indicated in her last correspondence with the city that she had attempted to sell the business in the recent past, and apparently now she has.

Police Chief Greg Graham, who arrived in the city a year ago, has signaled that he is going to take liquor license applications seriously.

The downtown Tycoon nightspot also had a go-round with the Police Department and the tavern currently is operating with a kind-of probationary liquor license.

Downtown establishment Brick’s still going round with Police Department on liquor license renewal

In City Hall, Police Department on May 1, 2009 at 7:53 am

Bars aren’t churches, but, nonetheless, City Hall has some new expectations when it comes to the annual renewal of a liquor establishment’s liquor permit.

So the saga of the downtown Brick’s Bar and Grill, 320 Second Ave. SE, continues.

At the start of April, the City Council set aside a request from the Police Department to deny a liquor license renewal to Brick’s because Brick’s application for the license had some problems. The Police Department called omissions untruths, while the bar’s owner, Jade Harper-Hronik, called it an incomplete application.

Back then, the police made note of Harper-Hronik’s arrest for intoxication and felony convictions of two people associated with the downtown club.

In capturing the consensus of the City Council in early April, council member Brian Fagan asked Police Chief Greg Graham if he would be willing to meet with Harper-Hronik to see if he could create a consequence short of license denial for what the Police Department called untruthfulness. Graham, who said consequences are important, said he would be willing to do so.

It seemed like all was well.

Then a week ago, the Brick’s license matter returned to the City Council agenda, again in a way that looked as though the Police Department was seeking to deny the license renewal.

The matter then was pulled from the agenda.

This week, in a letter to the council, Harper-Hronik refutes the latest questions about her business practices in a letter to the City Council.

Harper-Hronik states that unpaid state sales tax payments have been paid. She states that she has satisfied two liens on the property. She states that her husband, Richard, did not threaten a prospective buyer of the business over the potential buyer’s decision not to make the purchase. She states that inspections of the premises are in the process of being completed.

In early April, Harper-Hronik won sympathy from some council members because she purchased and renovated the downtown Brick’s after the June flood.

She continues to argue that she had correctly filled out paperwork in September on the bar and for another drinking establishment in the city even if there were some questions raised about the latest application.

In any event, should the council ultimately deny a license to Brick’s, the bar can stay open as it appeals to the state’s Alcohol Beverages Division. Appeals can take up to a year to resolve.

And it’s not just Brick’s.

The Police Department in recent weeks convinced the City Council to block the renewal of a liquor license for The Tycoon, which is just down the block from Brick’s. The Tycoon, which did not move to renew its license in timely fashion, now has a probationary license and has agreed to better police its bar customers in an agreement with the Police Department.

After years of neighbor complaints about racket and stray bullets, state ombudsman descends on Police Department shooting range

In City Hall, Police Department on April 30, 2009 at 2:15 pm

The pleas from property owners next to the Police Department’s regional outdoor shooting range out on Old River Road SW reach back to at least 2004.

Those neighbors, led by retired Cedar Rapids firefighter Don Sedrel, made their way to the state office of Citizens’ Aide/Ombudsman, which asked the neighbors to try to reach a compromise with City Hall and the Police Department. In March 2007, the neighbors said the problem – the volume and frequency of noise and potential safety hazards from stray and ricocheting bullets – had changed little.

That’s when Bert Dalmer, assistant citizens’ aide/ombudsman, began looking into what state law might say about the police firing range so close to neighbors, Dalmer now tells City Hall in a letter.

In that letter that arrived at City Hall this week, Dalmer concludes that the outdoor range, at 2727 Old River Rd. SW, may violate state law.

He makes note that the particular section of state law in question falls under a section of state law that prohibits hunting near buildings and feedlots.

Nonetheless, Dalmer argues that the law prohibits discharging a firearm within 200 yards of a building occupied by people without the consent of the owner or tenant.

He says four buildings are within 200 yards of the police firing range: Tracy and Cheryl Sedrel’s home at 2901 Old River Rd. SW; the home of Pat Freilinger at 2949 Old River Rd. SW; the home of Chris Simonsen at 2849 Old River Rd. SW; and a business operated by Mike McMurrin at 2665 Old River Rd. SW. Don Sedrel’s place at 3261 Old River Rd. SW is a little farther away, though on Thursday he said he now owns 2901 Old River Rd. SW, too.

Dalmer says the specific section of state law allows exceptions for target shooting ranges that are open to the public and have been used prior to the erection of a building occupied by the public after May 14, 2004.

However, the police range is not open to the public and does not meet the second part of the exception. The range opened in the late 1960s, and two of the occupied buildings nearby were build many years before that.

Dalmer says city officials have noted in the past that the city has taken steps to better supervise the shooting range and to limit the times when shooting occurs.

But he says, “Regardless, I question whether these mitigating actions are adequate to address the prohibitions (in state law).” Neighbors have continued to complain that too little has changed, he adds.

Neither Police Chief Greg Graham nor City Attorney Jim Flitz returned calls on Thursday.

Out at Freilinger’s home and shop on Old River Road SW on Thursday afternoon, he and Don Sedrel said little had changed to make living next to the shooting range tolerable. Law enforcement officers were shooting at the range Thursday morning, they said, and shooting practice had taken place every day this week, Sedrel noted.

Sedrel said what has started out 50 years ago as a pistol gallery for city police officers has become a regional range with city, county, state and federal agencies using it. There are days when neighbors might have to listen to 8,000 rounds of shooting go on, he said.

“There’s absolutely no excuse that anyone should have to live with that kind of noise,” Sedrel added.

Neither he nor Freilinger have heard anything from city officials about the range for what Sedrel thought might be two years.

Both wondered if the city could take its shooting practice to the Matsell Bridge Natural Area near Viola where there is a public shooting range and where the Linn County Sheriff’s Department is establishing a range.

Both said they would not consent to the status quo, but Freilinger said he might be open to working with the Police Department if there is no option in the short run and if closing the range prevented the department from performing its job.

One thing that has changed is that the Linn County Sheriff’s Office has decided to leave the city’s shooting range and open its own in rural Linn County. Meanwhile, the Iowa City Police Department, which also has used the Cedar Rapids range, has been looking for its own place to practice.

Most interestingly, in January 2009, Cedar Rapids Police Chief Greg Graham and other city officials proposed building a $35-million Regional Public Safety Training Center with an indoor shooting range. One of the arguments cited for the need to build a new center was the problems associated with the city’s existing shooting range.

“The State Ombudsman is investigating the possibility of closing the police shooting range because of noise pollution and its proximity to houses and businesses in the area,” the city’s written request for federal funds for the new training center states.

The request went on to say that “the current situation dictates drastic changes and soon.”

In his letter to City Hall in late April, the state’s Dalmer asks city officials to respond within 30 days if it believes his arguments are in error or if the state law does not apply to the city’s police shooting range. After a review of the city’s response, he will decide if formal recommendations to the city are warranted, he says.

Red-light and speed-enforcement cameras a step closer as city seek proposals for “bullet-resistant” cameras that provide “indisputable” proof

In City Hall, Police Department on April 29, 2009 at 8:01 am

City Hall and the Police Department weren’t kidding.

The two have now moved ahead and are seeking proposals, due May 18, from contractors who will install and maintain red-light enforcement cameras at up to 10 intersections as well as a mobile speed-enforcement camera and a fixed speed-enforcement camera.

For the contractor who wins the city’s business, cameras are expected to be in place at four intersections within 90 days after the award of a contract and in place at six others within six months. The mobile speed-enforcement camera should be ready by Sept. 1 and the fixed speed-enforcement camera by Oct. 1.

For violators, warning tickets with snapshots of a violation will arrive in the mail for the first month the system is in operation.

The city is seeking an automated, digital traffic-camera enforcement program that is a “total turn-key operation with no program expenditures to be incurred by the city.”

Just how much an actual ticket will cost a violator to cover the contractor’s needs and the city’s needs will be part of each contractor’s proposal to the city.

The contractor pays for cameras, computer hardware, computer software, poles, wiring, installation, maintenance, training, reporting, community education and awareness on issues related to red-light violations.

Some intersections may have cameras at more than one approach to the intersection, and the city also wants a system that can expand to more intersections.

In its request for proposal, the city says it would prefer a camera system that provides both still photos and video of sufficient resolution to ensure “indisputable” proof of violations.

The cameras will capture an image of a vehicle’s rear license plate as well as a view of the specific intersection in which the violation is alleged to have occurred. The cameras must have a capability of flashing to take pictures at night and the cameras must be tamper-resistant and “bullet-resistant.”

The city’s request for proposals notes, too, that the red-light and speeding infractions will be city offenses and so will not be reported to insurance companies or the state motor vehicle office. Cedar Rapids police officers will review all photos and determine if an offense has occurred. Appeals of infractions will be made to the court system.

The contract is for three years.

The city’s proposal requires the contractor to remove the system at no cost to the city if the state of Iowa or the courts in the future decide that the cameras no longer are permitted. (To date, state courts have allowed the cameras). At each one-year point in the contract, the city also can ask that the system be removed if the city determines it is not effective.

The city is asking each of the companies submitting proposals to provide a fee structure, which details how much revenue goes to the company and how much to the city.

The city will pick a contractor based on 10 criteria, including qualifications and experience, references, total scope of services being offered and fee structure.

In the city budget for the fiscal year beginning July, the city anticipates it can raise $750,000 for the city from the enforcement cameras.

Tickets go to the owners of vehicles, whether they were driving or not. The city has said the owner has the responsibility to get the ticket to the driver or pay the ticket.

A visit with the police chief makes it easy to see how red-light and speed enforcement cameras will bring in some money

In Police Department on April 10, 2009 at 5:16 pm

Police Chief Greg Graham was talking this week about red-light enforcement cameras plus a mobile camera or two to catch speeders.

The cameras, ten or so, will be in place in Cedar Rapids by early summer.

The chief can go on about how he’s bringing the enforcement cameras to the city to reduce the number of crashes here.

He cites studies that show cities that use enforcement cameras can cut crashes by 20 percent. In 2008, he said the Cedar Rapids Police Department worked 5,000 crashes, taking up countless hours of police work. The number of hours worked on accidents far exceeds the number of hours the department is now devoting to patrolling neighborhoods, he said. And then there is all the gnarled metal; the motorist hospitalizations; the insurance claims.

Graham dismisses any suggestion that the cameras are all about revenue. Even so, the cameras are projected to bring $750,000 a year in ticket revenue into the department’s coffers. And that is just the department’s share. A private company will own the cameras, install them and maintain them and even collect the revenue.

It’s hard to imagine the cameras can generate that kind of revenue until Graham keeps talking.

Firstly, the chief, who came to Cedar Rapids from Ocala, Fla., last June, says people run a lot of red lights in Cedar Rapids. In fact, Graham, who always wears his police uniform, has handed out red-light tickets to people himself.

Secondly, Graham hinted that an individual ticket might cost some money because the vendor’s fee may be added to the ticket amount not included in it.

And thirdly, he suggested that a mobile camera designed to catch speeders might work spots on Interstate 380, including the curves through the downtown. It sounded like a revenue gold mine.

Graham challenged residents to prove him wrong so the Police Department gets no revenue from the cameras.

“How great would that be?” he said.

Police Chief Graham says Cedar Rapids has too few black police officers; recruiting officers of any race difficult these days, he says

In Neighborhoods, Police Department on April 9, 2009 at 5:19 pm

Police Chief Greg Graham says the 200-officer Cedar Rapids Police Department should have more than three black police officers.

The matter came up Thursday afternoon as Graham took an hour’s worth of questions on a wide range of subjects from the editorial staff and from reporters at The Gazette.

The question about black police officers was posed in the wake of an assault on a Cedar Rapids police officer by three black youth, an assault that has left the officer in the hospital in guarded condition and has increased the city’s police presence in neighborhoods with larger black populations.

At 6 p.m. Tuesday, too, the city’s Civil Rights Commission is sponsoring a forum at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church in the Wellington Heights Neighborhood to discuss criminal violence and neighborhood police presence.

The diversity of a city’s police force, the chief said Thursday, should “mirror” the diversity of the city, and three black officers, he said, is too few for a city like Cedar Rapids. The shortage of black officers is something he noticed early on after assuming the chief’s job in June 2008, he said.

The U.S. Census in 2000 put the city’s black population at 3.7 percent, and a census estimate in 2006 put that figure at 4.9 percent. For the Police Department’s makeup to match the city’s racial makeup, the department should have 9 or 10 black officers.

Prior to coming to Cedar Rapids, Graham had been deputy chief in Ocala, Fla., where he worked for a black police chief. But when asked if he had any network of contacts that might help in the recruitment of black officers, he said he wasn’t sure he did.

“The lack of minority officers is something we’re trying to address,” Graham offered.

But, in fact, he said it was difficult to recruit police officers, period, no matter what the race. At the same time, the current economic downturn might make public-sector law enforcement look more attractive to potential recruits, he said.

Graham said the department will be hiring a new recruit class in the months ahead, with training for that class set for summer. He said he would be willing to take questions about the racial makeup of the class at that time.

City Council wants police to help fix smaller, ‘broken-glass’ problems as a way to lessen scarier ones

In City Hall, Neighborhoods, Police Department on April 2, 2009 at 10:09 am

Council member Justin Shields says he constantly gets calls from citizens complaining about chronic jaywalking on busy First Avenue East near where police officer Tim Davis was assaulted Sunday evening while investigating a robbery.

With the attack on Davis fresh in his and other council members’ minds, Shields wondered just how unruly and unsafe some of these areas have gotten.

Council member Brian Fagan said any tougher police approach to crime needed to be seen in the context of the city’s Enhance Our Neighborhoods initiative.

The Enhance Our Neighborhoods (EON) program is premised on the idea that a many-pronged approach to problem neighborhoods is the way to revitalize them. EON, for instance, wants problem landlords to keep up their properties and problem tenants to get evicted.

Council member Monica Vernon said the model for “aggressive” community policing also envisions that citizens participate in helping police by reporting infractions of law and city codes to the city.

This is the broken-glass theory of neighborhood rebirth, Mayor Kay Halloran noted, which former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani gained some credit for putting in place in New York City. The idea is that a community that fixes small things like broken windows and jaywalking finds it takes care of bigger problems in the process.

Vernon suggested it was time for a “community cleanup.” Making neighborhoods look more “ship-shape” would have a favorable effect on life in them, she said.

It was some years ago when the Wellington Heights Neighborhood Association led just such a neighborhood cleanup effort that used neighbors and city crews to cart junk out of homes and to the landfill. So successful was the exercise that it spread citywide. But it lost the volunteer flavor, became a cost to the city budget and was abandoned.

Shields said problems in city neighborhoods were not limited to the area where the police officer was hurt on Sunday evening.

He pointed to problems in the neighborhood out by Kirkwood Community College, which is in his council district. And he pointed to his own southwest Cedar Rapids neighborhood. He said a burglar threw a rock through a neighbor’s window at 6 p.m. one recent evening as a way to get inside the house. The owner was on her computer in the basement when the intruder entered, and Shields said it scared her to death.

He said anymore you have to lock your house just to walk out to the mailbox.

There’s a new sheriff in town, and he’s the police chief; just ask The Tycoon tavern

In City Hall, Police Department on March 30, 2009 at 11:09 am

The Tycoon tavern in downtown Cedar Rapids has been tangling with the Police Department of late.
Part of it is timing: The liquor establishment at 427 Second Ave. SE needed to renew its liquor license just as still-new Police Chief Greg Graham has decided to knuckle down on taverns that generate too many police calls.

The Tycoon erred, firstly, by not filing for the license renewal in a timely fashion. The city rule is that an establishment needs to make an application at least 30 days in advance to give the city regulators and, most importantly, the Police Department enough time to review the renewal application.

The Tycoon did succeed two weeks ago in getting the City Council to make an exception and put the tavern’s expedited request for a license renewal on the council agenda for discussion.

In the council discussion, though, Police Chief Greg Graham unveiled his new thinking about taverns in need of an alcohol license that also are in the habit of attracting police officers to their establishments.

Upon hearing that police were called to the bar 17 times this year — and the bar was open only a couple evenings a week — the council denied The Tycoon any special treatment. The bar closed — including for the nice revenue-producing day of St. Patrick’s Day — for a couple weeks until the Police Department could review the tavern’s license in the timeline set out in city policy.

The review is complete and The Tycoon now is open under what the Police Department calls a six-month probationary license.

The conditions of probation are … well, they are designed to modify behavior.

For instance:

The Tycoon must pay $2,875 to the city for the 23 hours of investigative work required by the Police Department to determine that The Tycoon didn’t deserve a new liquor license because of the number of police calls to its establishments. That’s 23 hours at $125 per hour.

The Tycoon must have an “adequate number of appropriately trained personnel,” as approve by the Police Department, at all times. The staff should wear identifying shirts that say staff or security. This staff is there to check identifications, to make sure fire-code occupancy limits are followed, to prevent serving people already drunk and to prevent loitering outside the establishment.

The Tycoon should consider a dress code, a cover charge and the use of an electronic metal detector.

The Tycoon shall implement an action plan to immediately reduce the number of police calls for fight, disturbances, assaults, weapons, intoxication, drugs and public urination.

Within six months, The Tycoon will seek to reduce the number of police calls to the tavern to no more than one a week.

During the first month of reopening, the Police Department will bill The Tycoon $125 an hour for any police call over two a week, and after the first month, The Tycoon shall pay $125 an hour for any call over one a week.

The tavern also will pay a $63 “prisoner cost” for each arrest made at the bar.

Police Lt. Tom Jonker told the City Council last week that The Tycoon’s owner, Tim Bushaw, had agreed to work with the Police Department to reduce police calls to the tavern in exchange for a new probationary liquor license.

“The chief is adamant,” Jonker said on Monday. “It’s a privilege not a right to sell alcoholic beverages, and you need to be a good business person and do the right thing and fix errors and correct things that are wrong.”

On April 8, the City Council will hold a public hearing on the liquor license at Brick’s, a downtown bar down Second Avenue SE from The Tycoon. The Police Department is recommending that a new license be denied to Brick’s.