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Talk to your neighbors before calling the police

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | AUGUST 20, 2012 6:30 AM

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The Iowa City City Council will consider for the first time an ordinance amending disorderly house violations on Tuesday. The amendment aims to make a disorderly house a municipal infraction that allows officers to issue civil citations to all tenants in the residence.

If passed, tenants found keeping a disorderly house (a loud, raucous residence) could be issued civil citations, even if criminal charges are never filed against them.

This amendment comes as a result of police officers being unable to hand out citations because tenants keeping a disorderly house refuse to open their doors to accept the criminal charges filed against them.

The amendment might be a good measure to take if there weren’t a number of ways the Iowa City police and neighbors disturbed by disorderly houses could resolve the issues before having to hand out citations to disorderly tenants — but there are.

The steps to resolve a disorderly house issue are outlined in the guide “Neighborhood Calming,” which has been made available by the Iowa City Office of Neighborhood Services. Filing a complaint is the fifth step on that guide to conflict resolution.

Talking with a problem neighbor is strongly encouraged, as is talking with surrounding neighbors and the landlord about the problem property to verify that the residence represents a continued disturbance, according to the guide.

It is only when the problem neighbor has shown blatant disregard for any efforts to resolve the issue that police intervention and rental-permit sanctions should be sought.

The police have also run the Party Patrol program since 2010. The program began in response to concerns over increased activity in neighborhoods near downtown after the passage of the 21-only ordinance.

Party Patrol deploys teams of officers in those neighborhoods to work proactively to respond specifically to “house parties and disorderly behavior,” as stated by a press release from the city. The program runs Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights.

Iowa City has the means of resolving disorderly house violations. Even if criminal charges are never filed against the tenants of a disorderly house, it does not necessarily mean that the issue cannot be fixed.

Furthermore, if the ordinance amends the disorderly house violation into a municipal infraction, what is to say the Party Patrol program won’t hand out citations to every house officers can hear from the street?

The Daily Iowan reported in May that disorderly house charges have increased by 67.7 percent since the 21-ordinance, so clearly they continue to pose a problem to Iowa City neighborhoods. Yet the same report noted that alcohol-related crimes have decreased by almost 19 percent within the last two years.

We should be able to communicate with one another as a community and have our interests and concerns expressed and understood by our neighbors. If people have expressed their disturbances to problem neighbors, and those neighbors continue to pose a problem, there are other means they can be brought to justice aside from imposing criminal charges.


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