Printed in the Iowa City Press-Citizen, Sept. 1, 2009.
The increasing severity and number of crime incidents in Iowa City's southeast side show that the current laws on the books are not enough to help police, city officials and neighborhood activists turn the tide in the neighborhood. Police say they need more authority to pick up juveniles for causing trouble, and they need more discretion on whether to take the kids home or to the police station.
While some residents have called on the Iowa City Council to impose a curfew citywide , Iowa City Police Chief Sam Hargadine last month told the Iowa City Council he would prefer the council pass a delinquent behavior ordinance. Rather than lock down on every teenager in the city, Hargadine said, such an ordinance would allow the police to focus on the juveniles who are causing problems.
Hargadine makes a good case for the benefits of a delinquency behavior ordinance over those of a curfew. Charges under the delinquency ordinance would be simple misdemeanors and wouldn't necessarily be sent to the magistrate court, as those under the curfew would be. Instead, the type of ordinance he has in mind would give the juvenile court system jurisdiction. And, to be used most effectively, the ordinance would require Iowa City police and juvenile court officers to improve their communication.
A majority of councilors seem generally open to implementing both a curfew and some version of a behavior ordinance, but they are waiting to see the specifics of the plans before giving support. The police have provided a list of possible offenses to be included in such an ordinance, and the city attorney is looking through the list to identify which offenses already are on the books in some way, which offenses the city could add to the code and which offenses might conflict with constitutional or other statutory provisions. The issue is scheduled to be discussed next at the a special council meeting on Sept. 10.
Although some residents want the council to move more quickly toward passing these ordinances, we think it's right for the city to take a few weeks to evaluate the police department's recommendations. The process will require much communication and cooperation between the police, the city legal department and county prosecutors. And because city police officers would have discretion on whether the ordinance has been violated, the council will have to consider how to address the inevitable disproportionate implementation of the ordinance in some neighborhoods and on specific racial or socio-economic groups.