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Recent editorials published in Iowa newspapers

September 27, 2017

Des Moines Register. September 20, 2017

Failing to fund crime lab victimizes crime victims

When sexual assault victims seek medical care, they may be encouraged to undergo a “rape kit” examination. This allows medical professionals to gather physical evidence that can aid a criminal investigation and prosecution. If a victim was assaulted by a stranger, a rape kit may help identify the perpetrator through DNA profiling.

The already traumatized patient spends up to four hours being prodded and swabbed in the places already violated in an attack. Iowa hospitals turn over the rape kit to law enforcement who send it to the state crime lab for processing.

Then victims, police and prosecutors wait. And wait. And wait.

It may take months for the state’s overwhelmed and understaffed crime lab to process DNA evidence, a Des Moines Sunday Register investigation by Kathy Bolten found. Delays of a year or more are not unusual either.

The Marshalltown Police Department submitted a rape kit to the lab in April 2016 and got results back in May 2017. The same department is still waiting for results from a kit submitted in June 2016.

The delay can prevent closure for victims. It can allow a perpetrator to remain on the streets. It can hinder criminal investigations, prosecutions and court proceedings. It makes it difficult for federal officials to identify serial offenders.

But the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation’s Criminalistics Laboratory in Ankeny, like many state entities these days, is not adequately funded or staffed.

The lab received more than 20,000 requests from law enforcement agencies to analyze forensic evidence last year — a 37 percent increase from four years earlier. Meanwhile, its $6.4 million annual budget has remained essentially the same.

The lab’s administrator, Bruce Reeve, fears a budget cut this fall due to the state’s revenue shortfall. Five positions, including two forensic science technicians, are unfilled.

“We need more staff,” and more funding “would help,” Reeve told a Register editorial writer this week.

Long waits are not only confined to rape kits, he said. There is a similar backlog in processing latent prints that could identify perpetrators in a variety of crimes, including homicides and burglaries. Processing a firearm from a shooting could take months.

And this isn’t work that can be rushed or entrusted to just anyone. Forensic specialists have years of training. Their findings may mean the difference between a defendant going free or spending a life behind bars.

While the state crime lab does not charge law enforcement agencies to process evidence, private labs would. Someone has to pay the bill. Fees could discourage local officials from pursuing a criminal investigation. A homicide case, for example, may have 100 items in evidence that may need to be processed.

The bottom line: The state crime lab needs more state funding.

Of course, so do law enforcement agencies charged with responding to and investigating crimes. So do schools and human services, which play a role in preventing crime and saving lives. So does the state medical examiner’s office, where a backlog in autopsies means families wait weeks for a loved one’s remains.

Unfortunately, this is Iowa. Our current crop of elected officials refuses to generate revenue to fund basic government services. They hand out tax breaks to businesses so the state collects even less money. They drone on about the need for smaller government.

And Iowans, including those victimized by crime, are the ones who suffer.


Quad-City Times. September 22, 2017

Do something for the central city

Alderwoman Rita Rawson is on to something. But, like with so many things, it’s up to Davenport City Council to free up the cash.

On Wednesday, developer Duncombe Brooke sprayed weeds outside a badly decayed home on Spring Street. This will be the 10th abandoned property Brooke purchased, typically at tax sale, and rehabbed. The porch’s joists sag under a person’s weight. The siding is rotten. Inside, old clothing and trash litter the floors. It’s not the worst Brooke has seen in is house-flipping career, however.

“Some places make you want to puke,” he said.

The house next door has been vacant for years. Its windows are smashed. Squatters have left their mark. It’s beyond repair, by Brooke’s estimation.

Both of these houses are just a few blocks from the booming Village of East Davenport.

At least 500 homes sit abandoned and rotting throughout Davenport, most of them in its central neighborhoods, according to city estimates. Some third-party agencies predict that number is as high as 800. More than 100 are tagged for demolition.

By its design, 2008′s Davenport NOW promoted new builds, forcing growth northward. It did nothing for the central city. That’s because the tax rebates are wholly determined by increases to assessed property value. Plunking a shiny new $300,000 home on a once-vacant lot exponentially increases a property’s value, triggering the rebate. In central city, property owners might pour $50,000 into a dilapidated home and see the assessed value jump only $20,000. Davenport NOW is structurally incapable rejuvenating old neighborhoods.

And that, going forward, must be the goal, if the city intends on capitalizing on its revitalized downtown. Otherwise, sprawl is the only future Davenport can look forward to.

This week, Rawson called for city investment in homes such as the one Brooke is pouring cash into. She’s correct when she argues existing programs will never be capable of driving people back to the old neighborhoods. She’s also correct that, as it did downtown, the city and its schools stand to benefit from municipal seed money that promotes old home restoration.

Yet, Rawson’s proposal isn’t fully formed. Such a project requires annual funding and consistent political support. Future tax increment financing zones for new industry could be structured in such a way to stash new revenue in a rehabilitation fund, she said. The city could bond for $1 million every year or so, she said. Federal agencies are offering cities a little more flexibility with how those grants are spent, she noted.

Both local sources of cash within Rawson’s still-under-construction idea are politically problematic. TIFs and residential development just don’t mix. Convincing fellow City Council members and administration that loans are a good idea would be a heavy lift, too.

It’s obviously too early to endorse Rawson’s conceptual plan. It’s simply not yet policy. That said, her consistent focus on this issue looks to be sinking in with her peers on the City Council.

Schools are closing. Old homes are bulldozed leaving only vacant lots.

These are real, legitimate struggles that now face Davenport. Rawson might be correct when she says the problems aren’t so huge as to be insurmountable. But that won’t be the case forever.

Come budget season, Davenport City Council must wrestle with how it can spur redevelopment in the city’s core. It should look hard at creating matching grants for would-be developers and nonprofits. It should pay the same attention to the central city that it gave years ago to downtown. And it should garner widespread support if Rawson — pulling from successes in other communities — builds a workable plan to fund it.

Davenport’s long-term health depends on it.


Fort Dodge Messenger. September 24, 2017

Today we explore addiction

It’s important to understand more about this growing problem

Sometimes an issue is so important that explaining it adequately requires more than one or two articles. That’s why a significant portion today’s edition of The Messenger is devoted to a multifaceted exploration of a single topic — addiction.

Anyone who has a television set, an internet connection, is a moviegoer or reads books or newspapers knows that the consequences of developing a dependence on a habit-forming substance has become a popular theme. There was a time when many people imagined addiction to be a problem mostly occurring in places far removed from north central Iowa. If that was ever true, it certainly is not the case anymore.

Addiction is ruining lives in the communities this newspaper serves. The impact extends far beyond the individual addicts and their families. Substantial public and private sector expenditures are required to address the resulting problems. Our schools, health care system, law enforcement agencies, social welfare entities, churches, charities and businesses all are affected.

The articles in today’s newspaper will help readers understand why people become addicts and what can be done to help them recover. The resources in our communities that are engaged in dealing with the various issues that emerge as a result of addiction will be explored. Perhaps most importantly, we hope the stories we present will send some very clear messages:

. Addiction can be prevented.

. Addicts can recover.

. It is vital that addiction be confronted rather than ignored.

. There are many resources available to help addicts change their lives.

We encourage our readers to spend a bit of extra time today reading and thinking about the case studies and other articles that have been included in these pages. If they stimulate useful conversations and serious reflection about addiction, we will deem the hard work that our writers undertook to generate this special issue to have been labor well spent.


Dubuque Telegraph Herald. September 20, 2017

Dubuque hits mark on community engagement

It can sometimes be difficult to assess just how the course of direction set by local government is sitting with the citizens of a community.

Local officials tend to hear mostly from the “squeaky wheels,” and it’s the negative reactions that tend to compel letters to the editor. When things are going well and most people are satisfied, community leaders might not hear a lot of feedback.

So when thousands of citizens participate in an opinion-gathering process and thousands of ideas are brought forward, local officials are going to take those comments to heart.

Such recent feedback has moved Dubuque city leaders toward staying the course as they seek to chart the community’s continued development over the next 20 years.

If that’s something different than what you had hoped might happen, you likely missed an opportunity to weigh in — because there were plenty of them.

The Dubuque City Council recently reviewed a draft of the Imagine Dubuque Comprehensive Plan. The draft offers suggestions for playing on Dubuque’s strengths as a river town, maintaining historic preservation and remaining committed to environmental stewardship. Continuing to tackle workforce shortages and emerging community health needs were also priorities.

While this might not rise to the level of a mandate from the people, it should certainly inform council members’ opinions when it comes to creating policy and making spending decisions.

What makes this document so important is its source: It came from a comprehensive community engagement process. The recommendations were culled from more than 12,500 suggestions and ideas from more than 6,000 people.

To anyone who might be critical of the approach, consider the lengths to which the team went to include all voices in the process:

Outreach included casual conversations, pop-up events such as at the Dubuque Farmers Market, focus groups, workshops, surveys and online submissions. The effort included reaching out to those 65+ by holding events at senior centers. It also reached millennials and students at various events and came up with a diverse cross-section of the community.

In other words, it wasn’t just the squeaky wheels.

Yet, it was a collective that did have feedback for local officials. The result is a detailed plan focused on enhancing the viable, livable and equitable character of Dubuque in the years ahead.

City officials deserve credit for the efforts made to include so many community voices in this process. And credit goes to the thousands of people who took the time to participate. Community engagement is a lot more easily said than done. Dubuque gets points for a successful effort.


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