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Crime-and-courts
Rural crime down in Black Hawk County

WATERLOO — Crime in rural Black Hawk County saw a slight decrease in 2017, according to statistics released by the sheriff’s office Tuesday.

Overall Group A and B offenses — ranging from murder to public intoxication — went from 670 in 2016 to 657 last year, according to the numbers, which include crimes in rural Black Hawk County as well as the communities of Hudson, Gilbertville, Dunkerton and La Porte City.

“This year’s annual report continues to demonstrate an overall reduction in index crimes and a generally reduced demand on routine sheriff’s office approaches in rural Black Hawk County,” said Sheriff Tony Thompson.

After a robbery-free 2016, the county saw one robbery last year. Burglary was down from 72 to 68, and auto theft went from 15 to 11. Also seeing a drop was rape, which went from 10 in 2016 to seven last year. There were no murders reported in 2016 and 2017.

Larceny was up significantly, with 80 incidents in 2017 compared with 67 in 2016.

Thompson said this was because a small number of people were committing a large number of thefts.

Also up was aggravated assault, which went from three to six.

Despite a drop in crime both in the rural areas as well as inside Waterloo, bookings at the jail were up by more than 100 — from 7,074 to 7,199 — and the average daily population at the 272-bed jail grew from 216 to 228.

Thompson said this was because more people with serious crimes are in custody — which can translate into longer jail stays before trial — and because of the mental health crisis.

“The mentally ill can’t necessarily post bond or aren’t connected well enough to navigate the court systems efficiently, so they end up getting caught in our jail,” Thompson said.

“A lot of the times they are committing the crimes because they are mentally ill, not because they are trying to be aberrant or trying to be contrary to the law.”


MATTHEW PUTNEY, COURIER PHOTO EDITOR  

A cardinal waits for his turn at a bird feeder in George Wyth State Park on Wednesday in Waterloo.


Iowa chief justice warns insufficient resources 'tear at fabric of justice' (copy)

DES MOINES (AP) — The head of Iowa’s court system warned Wednesday that “Iowans are losing access to justice” because more than 100 key court jobs statewide remain empty due to ongoing spending cuts from the Legislature.

Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Cady told legislators in his State of the Judiciary address the court system is operating with 115 “essential” positions unfilled. Overall, the office has 182 fewer positions than one year ago.

“This means there are fewer judges, fewer court reporters, fewer case schedulers and fewer juvenile court officers,” he said. “It means there is a daily struggle to coordinate and deliver services.”

Cady also used his annual speech to highlight what he sees as successes in the court system, including in juvenile court programs that divert minors from criminal court. But his roughly 37-minute speech pointed to growing “shortcomings.” He said a commitment to addressing cases in a timely period is eroding, with rural residents receiving fewer court services than urban residents.

Cady said specialty courts dealing with substance abuse cannot be expanded until the Legislature increases funding. Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds highlighted the need to better address opioids in her Condition of the State speech Tuesday, though she didn’t mention the court’s role.

Cady’s office has a roughly $175 million budget that was reduced by $3 million last fiscal year. Reynolds, who was seated behind Cady during his speech, announced mid-year budget cuts Tuesday that include $1.6 million to the judicial branch. The courts are seeking an increase of nearly $14 million for the budget year that goes into effect in July.

Reynolds has recommended roughly $173 million in new spending to Iowa’s next budget, which was last estimated at $7.2 billion. She’s recommending about $5 million in new money for the judiciary.

Lawmakers dealt with multiple budget shortfalls in 2017 because of lower-than-expected revenue growth and they now need to address a roughly $35 million deficit. The Republican-controlled Statehouse wants to pass tax cuts this session some GOP lawmakers believe could grow the economy. Those remarks have been vague and no plan is available yet.


Govt-and-politics
New Cedar Falls Fareway, Kwik Star projects advance, despite traffic concerns

CEDAR FALLS — Two proposed commercial projects near an increasingly busy southern Cedar Falls intersection received the blessing of the Planning and Zoning Commission Wednesday night. But commissioners and citizens emphasized traffic issues there must be addressed.

Commission members recommended City Council approval of site plans for a proposed Kwik Star convenience store and a new Fareway grocery store at Greenhill Road and Coneflower Parkway.

Both projects are southeast of the intersection of Greenhill Road and South Main Street. And several commissioners and residents, including those in the nearby El Dorado Heights residential areas, said attention is needed to traffic safety improvements at Greenhill and South Main.

City staff acknowledged the need in a staff report on the Fareway project.

The report cited the expansion of the Western Home campus, residential development and commercial projects in the Viking Road corridor in recent years.

“The city realizes that this intersection at Greenhill and South Main will need to be upgraded in the future,” David Sturch of the city planning staff wrote. Construction is set to begin in 2021.

In the short term, Sturch noted, the city will determine near- and long-term improvements. Staff could make a recommendation to the City Council next month.

Garrett Picklapp, general counsel for Boone-based Fareway, said he hoped any improvements could be made yet this year, concurrent with the construction of the company’s proposed store.

Several residents said short-term improvements will not be sufficient and 2021 is too long to wait for long-term improvements, particularly with the Highway 58/Viking Road interchange set to be constructed soon just a mile to the south, and the ongoing reconstruction of University Avenue about a mile to the north with that work moving toward the Highway 58 interchange this year.

“That’s going to impact our area,” resident Jill Fisher said after the meeting. “We already know the roundabouts on University Avenue have impacted our area. We know that,” with more traffic moving on to Greenhill and South Main during University’s reconstruction.

“And they’re also going to be closing what they call the ‘dog bones’ on 58?” referring to a double roundabout proposed at the University/58 interchange. “That’s all going to happen at the same time. And how are they going to re-direct the traffic? “ Fisher asked. “It doesn’t matter how they say they’re going to detour. People will find their own detours.”

She also cited heavy daily traffic on Iowa Highway 58, also known as Iowa Highway 27, the official route of the Avenue of the Saints, at least a portion of which could shift onto local streets.

“I don’t think the people object specifically to those two entities coming in, those two businesses,” Fisher said. “I think what they’re objecting to is the fact that the city has not done their due diligence in providing an infrastructure that would alleviate traffic problems.”

Improvements to the South Main/Greenhill intersection has been listed as an “unmet need” in the city’s capital improvements plan for several years, El Dorado Heights resident Penny Popp said.

Fisher also expressed concern about delivery trucks for both businesses getting in and out of the area, as well as ambulances and fire trucks when a new public safety building is built at the existing south fire station site.

Both the Kwik Star and Fareway projects may come before the City Council later this month or in early February. The council is scheduled to hold a public hearing on the city’s proposed five year capital improvements plan at its meeting 7 p.m. Monday.