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Cut police budget, fund courthouse

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | OCTOBER 11, 2011 7:20 AM

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Iowa City's police force is misfocused and overstaffed while at the same time the Johnson County Courthouse is understaffed and laboring to keep up. These two issues represent misplaced priorities on the part of local voters and policymakers.

While cutting Iowa City police spending wouldn't mean more appropriations for the county justice system, locals should push city and county officials each to correct the imbalance.

The Oct. 7 Daily Iowan reported that a lack of court reporters and other judicial staff slow the process for inmates to be tried. Because of this, trials are delayed based on the availability of those staff rather than the availability of a judge.

The tendency to cut Courthouse spending more freely than other operations — including law enforcement — is a continual mistake and ought to be reversed.

Beyond bad calls by policymakers, the police and jail issues are connected in another way: A more efficient and focused police force would likely, we hope, not arrest so many people for nonviolent drug and alcohol violations. Cutting down those arrests would also cut down on the number of nonviolent offenders in jail.

University of Iowa Professor Emeritus John Neff published a study on the traffic in the Johnson County system and found that there are roughly 1,000 people who are being jailed on a regular basis. This is putting a further burden on the system and making it more difficult for jailing officials to provide space for new non-repeating inmates.

Neff also found that there are around 100 individuals who have committed serious offenses who take up room in the jail for an indefinite amount of time, which eliminates a vast amount of space.

According to the report, 53 percent of the beds used involved serious crimes, 33 percent were mostly alcohol-related crimes, and 14 percent were related to parole, probation, or contempt of court.

Unless released on bail, those charged but not convicted of a serious crimes stay in jail while they await their trial. An understaffed and inefficient Courthouse can lengthen their stay tremendously.

"General court delays can apply to all cases and are caused by scheduling conflicts due to shortages in courtrooms and jury-deliberation rooms, shortages of judges, clerk of court staff, court reporters and malfunctions that result in the rescheduling of a hearing or trial," according to Neff's report.

If more funding were to be allocated to the staff in order to expedite the trial processes for less serious offenders, space could be opened up quicker.

According to the secretary of the City Attorney's Office, 187 new indictable offenses were filed between Oct. 3 and 7. Of the 39 citations listed in Monday's DI police blotter, 85 percent were either drug- or alcohol-related. As for "serious" crimes, there was one person arrested for assault and one person charged with child endangerment.

With nearly 200 Iowa City residents and visitors getting charged with relatively inconsequential offenses, it's no wonder Courthouse employees are feeling overwhelmed. While only a handful of Courthouse employees handle these filings, the trial dates of serious offenders are at serious risk of being delayed.

Cutting a few officers would have considerable positive effects: fewer people arrested for nonviolent crimes, fewer cases to clog the local justice system, alleviation of jail crowding, and significant taxpayer savings.

The data are clear: Excessive police budgets lead to over-policing. Over-policing leads to unnecessary number of trivial charges, which leads to jail overcrowding. Overcrowding strains the community's resources and compounds the problems our judicial system can't seem to work around.


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