Cedar Rapids Police Chief Greg Graham stopped by The Gazette for an editorial board session this afternoon. Here are a few highlights from my notes.
Community Policing — Graham insists that an increased police presence in the Wellington Heights neighborhood is only one piece in what must be a broad strategy for making the neighborhood safer and more livable. He contends it will take a community-wide effort, including help from citizens who are willing to stand up against crime.
He told a story about working in Florida, standing over a homicide victim, when he got a call from a resident who said she was fed up, wasn’t going to take it anymore and knew who did it. It was at that point, he said, things started turning around in the neighborhood.
He says opening a district station on First Ave. will be a big help, and he’s seen the same course of action work well at his previous gig in Florida. The police move in and business/development often follow. Then they move on to set up shop in another troubled spot.
Graham expects the district office to be open in 30-45 days, once it’s remodeled and made accessible to folks with disabilities.
Graham said there’s a “hard balance” between re-establishing authority in a troubled neighborhood and being heavy-handed. “We have to re-establish that bright line to show what’s right and what’s wrong,” he said.
He also said parents need to take responsibility for their kids, citing a string of criminal activity involving teenage suspects late at night. That includes the assault on Officer Tim Davis.
“Where are the parents?” Graham said.
Graham said if there are race or gender-related issues that need to be addressed by the department, he wants to know about them. And he concedes that a department with just three black officers is not adequately reflective of the community it serves. “We are not even remotely close,” he said. Recruitment efforts are ongoing.
Imported Crime — I asked him about the persistent notion that Cedar Rapids’ crime woes are imported from Chicago. He said there may be some truth in that notion, but he also says a lot of our crime is home-grown. “I think it’s unfair to blame an influx of people,” he said.
Police Chases — Graham said the department has created a new decision matrix for supervisors to determine how police chases are conducted. It was in the works before a recent deadly crash involving a driver in a stolen car fleeing police.
The matrix takes into account the level of crime, time of day, traffic, speed, area of town and other factors. Still, under the matrix, Graham said police would have pursued the stolen car.
Red Light Cameras — Graham also said that in addition to red light cameras being installed to catch red light runners at intersections, the department will also use cameras to discourage speeding 0n I-380 through the city. They will be used on curves, where it’s dangerous for police to pull over motorists.
As with the red light cameras, Graham insists the point is not to raise additional revenue.
“The point is to get people to slow down,” he said.
You can watch video of the meeting here.