WATERLOO — Police Chief Dan Trelka hopes a program developed in Sioux City can help stem gun violence that continues to plague Waterloo’s streets.
He’s asking the City Council for permission to hire another officer to help make it a reality.
A nonprofit organization started by officer Justin Brandt is modeled after the Sanford Center in Sioux City, which works to identify youths at risk of joining gangs and provide programming to put them on a better course.
Brandt, a nine-year veteran of the Waterloo police force, has secured $170,000 in grants for his nonprofit organization, including $35,000 which could be used to support the salary of an officer assigned to work with the program.
“We’ve got a significant problem in the community now with violence being committed against our young men,” Trelka said. “We found a solution that we’re confident can address this.
“Over the past nine years we’ve made significant progress in driving our crime rate down about 32 percent. The one problem we’re having is shootings. We’ll have about 100 shootings per year in the city. The past couple of weeks are a good example of that.
“The vast majority of our shootings are gang members within our community,” he added. “Between my school resource officers and teachers we can accurately predict who’s prone to join a gang in the city of Waterloo.”
Trelka said the proposed “violence reduction officer” would work with the nonprofit along with school resource officers, the University of Northern Iowa’s Mentors in Violence Prevention program and other agencies to intervene in the lives of those young men.
Trelka said the $35,000 provided by the nonprofit would cover the cost of the officers from Sept. 1 through January. Part of the officer’s duties would be to find grants and other funds outside of city property tax funding to continue the position beyond January.
Brandt’s program has already caught the attention of the U.S. Attorney’s office in Cedar Rapids and school officials, Trelka said.
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Councilwoman Margaret Klein said she liked the idea since Trelka was not asking city taxpayers to fund the position.
“That means we get to try it out, see if it shows real promise here on our Waterloo streets, and then make that decision down the road,” she said.
But Councilman Steve Schmitt voiced reservations about increasing the sworn police staff from 123 to 124 members.
“It just seems like we keep looking for more money to do stuff and we keep spending more money to do stuff, but we’re not getting the results we want,” Schmitt said. “I’m a little bit concerned about hiring a police officer that part of his job is going to be trying to access grants. … This just seems to me to be not a good use of this person’s time.”
Schmitt also questioned why the city was just now looking at the Sioux City program, which was started 20 years ago, instead of pursuing programs that previously were identified in Racine, Wis., and Charlotte, N.C.
Mayor Quention Hart took exception with Schmitt’s comments, noting the city did implement some lessons learned from Charlotte.
“There’s no amount of places that we can’t go across this state, across this country when it comes to protecting the lives of our young people, when it comes to fighting crime,” Hart said.
“If we have a chief that didn’t go out and do that then we would have a problem right here,” he added. “That’s exactly what we need to be doing. Looking at every angle, under every bush.”
No date has been set on when council members will vote on Trelka’s request to begin the hiring process for a violence reduction officer.