Council should reject curfew in favor of juvenile officer


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The proposed curfew facing the Iowa City City Council is too broad, and it will punish young people who do not deserve it. Instead of the misguided curfew, the council should opt to hire an officer specifically tasked with handling juvenile crime.

The council first considered the curfew ordinance in September, passing it with a majority vote. But Councilor Mike Wright asked the council to defer the vote in order to seek out other viable options. The council revisited the issue Tuesday night and voted in favor of the curfew, 4-3. The next time the councilors vote in favor of the curfew, it will be their final decision.

While we realize the city needs to take steps to curb juvenile violence, we urge the council to reject a curfew that would unnecessarily punish innocent youth. And a more equitable, effective option is already out there.

In October, Councilor Amy Correia and other city officials visited the Davenport police to look into the possibility of adding a special juvenile officer to the Iowa City police force, a position that has proven beneficial in Davenport. Correia said she hopes the city will decide to hire the new officer by May 2010, but she thinks the move may occur closer to next July.

In addition, Correia said, the proposed franchise fee would provide a source of funding for the position. The tax, which would tack an extra 2 percent onto Iowa City residents’ utility bills, is designated specifically for improving public safety. Despite our discontent with the franchise fee, we see its enactment as inevitable and therefore agree the fee is a practical way to finance the new position.

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The officer would not take sole responsibility of juvenile crime in the city, but he or she would focus on the issues, do investigative work to prevent crime, and become familiar with young people in the community and their parents. Currently, the responsibility of enforcing juvenile law is spread throughout the department, and assigning a single officer to specialize in juvenile crime would allow the department to allocate more of its time and focus to the issue.

Sgt. Troy Kelsay said the Iowa City police are not proposing the addition of a new officer, but he said it would help.

“It is an asset that would have gone directly toward the problems that are occurring down there,” he said. “And not just the investigation of it, but having the information, the contacts, the knowledge about the individuals that would have made policing it — both investigating it and preventing it — hopefully easier.” The department can’t afford to take a current officer from patrol and make her or him a juvenile officer.

Sue Freeman, the director of the Broadway Center and a member of the Safe Neighborhoods Coalition, has been actively involved in finding a solution to the problems on the Southeast Side. She has distributed surveys around the community to ask residents what they want to see in their community.

While official results are yet to be released, her findings so far have been simple.

“Everyone wants the same thing: to feel safe and to prosper here,” she said.

A juvenile officer would help to do just that — without wantonly punishing innocent youth.

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