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New downtown community service program gains support

BY MEGAN SANCHEZ | AUGUST 30, 2013 5:00 AM

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An Iowa City police officer is taking steps to help improve downtown by implementing a new community-service program.

Iowa City Police Officer David Schwindt, who is assigned to the downtown beat, has launched a program to give individuals who have been ticketed the opportunity to pay off their fines in a way that gives back. The idea is to clean up downtown in ways such as picking up trash, sweeping, or washing windows.

Schwindt said many of the pedestrians who spend their days on the Pedestrian Mall are homeless or low-income. Allowing them the opportunity to pay off their fines through community service eliminates the need to pay for their citations out of pocket.

“I thought the best thing to do would be to give the people who spend time down here more of an ownership of the area,” he said.

The goal is for the program to begin Sept. 5, from 1-4 p.m., and to continue every Thursday after that. The starting date is subject to change, however, because of factors such as participation.

The program will only cost approximately $200, Schwindt said. So far, he has purchased eight safety vests, several push brooms, whisk brooms, a dust pan, scrub brushes, buckets, and various types of hand tools.

Citations are given as a last resort to solve the problem after a plethora of warnings, Schwindt said.
Geoff Fruin, assistant to the city manager, helped approve the project. He said issues such as loitering and littering have been problems.

“I think in the past year, we have had an increasing number of concerns,” Fruin said. “Hopefully, this program will be a constructive way to address some of these issues.”

The start of the program comes at the same time as the Iowa City City Council is considering an ordinance that aims to change the Ped Mall atmosphere.

The council will vote on the second consideration of the ordinance on Sept. 3. The ordinance will regulate certain activities in the Ped Mall, such as limiting storage of personal property, prohibiting lying on benches from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m., and restricting the use of electrical outlets to those who have obtained written permission.

Schwindt expects that the community service will affect pedestrians’ attitudes toward their peers. He hopes if someone involved in the program sees his friend leaving trash or a cigarette butt on the ground, the program member will approach the friend and ask him to throw the trash away, because the program member would be the one cleaning it up later.

Bill Nusser, president of the Downtown District and owner of Hands Jewelers, said he has seen plenty of issues in the area.

“We’ve had problems with people who are literally living downtown and parking their possessions in the area,” Nusser said. “Some harassment situations have occurred. It’s unpleasant, and it’s not who we are as Iowa City.”

Schwindt said priority for this program will be given to people who have been cited in the central business district, but given enough space in the program, he is open to accepting any people in the city who is willing to work off their fines — including students who have been ticketed for drinking.

When proposing the idea to Iowa City police administration, the City Manager’s Office, and Iowa City Parks and Recreation, Schwindt received remarks that were “positive across the board.”

“Everybody has been 100 percent supportive,” he said. “They’ve pretty much helped me to obtain whatever I’ve needed for the area to solve the problems down here. I really had no problem getting this through the city, the clerk of court, or anyone else.”

Because of the issues that Nusser has witnessed downtown, he said the program is an excellent idea.

“I think [the program] is great,” he said. “For people who can’t pay off the fines but can work them off, it gives them a sense of dignity. I think it’s a tremendous idea.”

From the beginning of getting his position downtown, Schwindt has had a clear goal in mind of what he wants, and the same goes for the community service program.

“Our goal is for the community to be able to experience a clean and safe downtown and to give people the opportunity to work those fines off without having to spend the money,” Schwindt said. “Especially when some of the people being cited don’t have the money to spend.”


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