If I know my Des Moines voters, you probably clicked here first. 😉
I don’t have all the answers right now. Nobody does. But I do think I’m asking all the right questions and I’m going to give you what I’ve learned. You may not like it. 😀
I’ve been where many of you are. A few years ago, two of my neighbor’s houses were sold and turned into rentals. And for the next five years my street endured a string of terrible tenants–criminals, couples with chronic family abuse, and meth addicts. Almost every week was an adventure in bad behavior. Usually, the cops could only shrug–not because they didn’t care but because there was little they could do. Worst of all, the landlords were completely unreachable. And as terrible as the problems were, they were either not ‘criminal’ or they were criminal, but only petty misdemeanors, so the person would be back on our street in just a few days.
Things finally resolved themselves with the one house being burned down by a tenant and the other when the tenant was evicted after doing $26,000 damage to the owner’s property. Two of my neighbors, who are great friends of mine, moved out. And my house still has a couple of bullet holes in one window as a reminder. So I get it. In fact the reason I am running now if because I was so appalled at how the city handled these problems. There are a lot of things that happen in our neighborhoods for which we currently don’t have good solutions.
My point is this: By far the largest chunk of crime that residents complain about is caused by people with drug addiction and/or mental health issues. And, let’s just get this out of the way now: we cannot arrest our way out of these problems. Or rather, we can, it’s just that we can’t simply “lock ’em up and throw away the key” or just drive them to the city limits and dump them somewheres else. Not possible. There’s this pesky thing called ‘the constitution’. And yes, I know that’s a tough pill to swallow.
First off, we need a whole new type of facility to take care of people with mental health or drug problems. When people are arrested for most misdemeanors (which again are the biggest chunk of crime in the area) they are booked into the SCORE facility. And that place becomes their detox or mental health care facility; which is ridiculous. On any given day between fifty to eighty percent of inmates at SCORE are either mentally ill or have a substance abuse problem. It is those problems that drive the criminal behavior. And jail is not a place to correct either of these problems. So the people are then released back into the community without the help they need and then they are likely to re-offend. So what we need is a different kind of institution which is designed to not only keep these people off the street, but also to give them the proper help they need so they stop re-offending.
The kind of institution I’m talking about requires State funding. So the city needs to start lobbying hard, both regionally and in Olympia for that to happen. Right now.
I know this is a dull subject. Des Moines used to have a dedicated Code Enforcement Officer who’s job was to check that all properties were up to code. So, theoretically, if a property was obviously not being take care of, she could ticket them. Unfortunately, Des Moines has some of the weakest code in the entire state as far as property upkeep goes. You can literally leave junk on your lawn for months at a time without incurring any penalties. I decided to run for office in order to fix this problem. If Des Moines had had these kinds of ordinances back when I was having my problems, the city would’ve cited the owner and the tenants would’ve been evicted. Problem solved.
If you’re on Facebook, you’ll see several community groups which are sharing info on problems on their street and in their neighborhoods. And often, the city and the police are right there as well, taking information and trying to be responsive. This is something that the city should do a lot more to encourage.
What we often find out is that people on the same street are having similar problems, but they don’t realize that it’s a trend because, frankly, a lot of us aren’t as in touch with our neighbors as we should be. But almost all of us now are on the Internet, getting our news and information from computers and phones. The city can start engaging more directly with residents, encouraging them to post problems on social media and to the council and police. This creates a ‘virtuous circle’. The more we can get residents to engage with the city, the better the city can determine where problem hot spots are. And at the same time, residents can realize that they aren’t alone, that people on their street are there for them.
I’ve seen first hand how well this can help with exactly the kinds of problems I was experiencing. Someone reports a problem on social media and immediately other people chime in, “I have that problem too!”. And once that happens? Believe me, the police take note and problems get solved. What we need to do is get everyone in Des Moines involved.
OK, this is the part you want to hear. I do support increasing staff; not so much to increase ‘boots on the ground’, but simply to give officers a break. They currently run twelve hour shifts and often do overtime. No department can sustain effectiveness and morale under those conditions. This is actually one area where I am in agreement with the current government. We need to gradually increase the number of officers to where they can run full shifts and have at least a few extra officers to handle unexpected emergencies. That has to be done within the limits of a tight budget; it won’t happen overnight.