Downtown program sees small involvement

BY CORY PORTER | AUGUST 29, 2014 5:00 AM

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Iowa City police Officer David Schwindt has been busy this last year downtown after implementing a program that allows people to serve community-service time as a way to pay for tickets for minor crimes.

“There was really no relationship between the Police Department and the people who frequented the [Pedestrian] Mall on a daily basis,” he said.

To help alleviate the financial burden, he came up with a plan: They could commit to community service, right on the Pedestrian mall, in lieu of having to pay fines.

He reasoned that “if they’re cleaning up … that could translate into their taking better care of the area.”

He wanted the program to motivate the regulars of the Pedestrian mall to take pride in their surroundings and create a place where anyone would feel welcome, he said.

Since the program’s inception, five people have worked 85 hours and 15 minutes of community service, sweeping alleys, picking up trash, and clearing utility poles of old posters and staples.

Schwindt said he has noticed a change in the program over the last year, which included running into a few challenges.

One such problem was people telling him they wanted to do the community service but never showed up for it.

Another problem is some people want to work to get rid of their fines but are receiving Social Security Disability Income. If they were to work for the city, thus proving they are capable of physical labor, that would violate the terms of their assistance.

The number of complaints he receives have decreased, and he said he has “received a lot of positive feedback.”

Bill Nusser, the owner of Hands Jewelers and former president of the Iowa City Downtown District, said that in the last year, he’s noticed “how much better it is [and] how much less threatening” the Pedestrian Mall is.

In his 47 years of working downtown, Nusser said, he has seen more people visiting the Pedestrian Mall than ever because of the work that that has gone on over the past year.

Nusser said it would’ve been easy for the community to simply say, “Get these people out of here, no matter what you have to do.”

George Etre, the president-elect of the Downtown District and owner of Takanami, Formosa, Iowa Chop House, and Givanni’s, said his employees, and even his customers, have noticed the positive, more cooperative atmosphere develop this past year.

Schwindt said he hopes the program continues to grow to benefit downtown.

“The [Pedestrian] Mall was designed as a place for people to … loiter, to hang out and spend time and talk,” Schwindt said. “That’s why we have it, that’s how we want it used, we just want people … to keep it clean and make everyone feel safe as they’re here.”

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