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With amendment, city stays productive on fighting fights

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | JUNE 19, 2009 7:21 AM

We hope violent behavior in this city will become a distant memory as a result of efforts being made by the community to cut down on alcohol-fueled fights.

The city and the community at large are making strides in the right direction; in order to extinguish fights downtown altogether, we need to continue focusing on fighting itself, rather than focusing on drinking in general. A recent move by the Iowa City City Council clears the way to further that principle.

This week, the City Council approved an amendment that changes the wording of the city’s disorderly conduct ordinance to more specifically outline fights. Before this change, downtown fighters were issued disorderly conduct tickets, and the fine — between $65 and $625 — was paid to the state. When the ordinance takes effect, however, that fine will be paid to the city.

This decision was long overdue for a city with as many aggressive incidents as Iowa City. The council’s decision was needed, but more must be done. Proper enforcement of this newly amended ordinance will require due diligence by the Iowa City police.

The vast majority of disorderly conduct charges result in an arrest; fines in those cases will still be paid to the state. This ordinance amendment applies to situations where a disorderly conduct citation is issued, but no arrest is made. Whether someone is arrested depends on the situation, and that decision is left to the officer’s discretion. We urge Iowa City police to use this opportunity to issue disorderly conduct citations, without making arrests, whenever reasonable.

We hope the revenue this amendment has the potential to bring to the city will act as an incentive for the police force to write more disorderly conduct tickets. An increase in disorderly conduct citations will undoubtedly act as a deterrent to fighting.

City Councilor Ross Wilburn said after the meeting that time will tell if the newly changed ordinance will be effective. “The city expects some form of law and order and we have tried to reinforce that issue,” he said. The ordinance will go into effect on July 1, the normal time frame of issuance for an ordinance in Iowa City.

This emphasis is important because issuing frivolous PAULA citations is counterproductive. While underage drinking may be one driving force behind downtown’s violence problem, focusing on non-confrontational drinkers rather than violent ones gives troublemakers free range to cause a bloody disruption to an otherwise peaceful downtown.

In that respect, Iowa City police are on the right track.

During the spring semester, Iowa City police largely switched their downtown patrol focus toward addressing fights and assaults and away from targeting under-21 drinkers.

Between March and April, there was a huge decrease in the number of PAULAs issued downtown each weekend, despite having more officers on patrol in the area. Iowa City police Sgt. Troy Kelsay told the DI that officers were focusing specifically on assault and disorderly conduct, and some were even given specific directions not to patrol inside bars and to instead focus on the area outside of the bars.

We hope, with the council’s approval of the disorderly conduct amendment, the police continue this trend by issuing more disorderly conduct charges for fighters downtown. Whether those charges result in an arrest — which means the fine will be paid to the state — or in just a citation — meaning the fine will be paid to the city — the charge will act as a deterrent to violence.

The City Council has ruled on this issue, and the weeks ahead will tell whether the new ordinance dampens the violence. Being as strict and forceful in the way of fighting as possible is the only way to make Iowa City safe in the future.


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