Taylor neighborhood Crowd Shares Crime-Fighting Solutions

By Meryn Fluker and Jill Kasparie, Reporters

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - An estimated crowd of over 100 concerned residents attended Monday evening's Taylor Area Neighborhood Association following an increase of bad after-hours behavior on the Taylor Elementary School grounds.

Association President Kathy Potts changed the monthly meeting's agenda in response to neighbors' concerns. Between July 14 and July 28, police reported 18 disturbances and five fights in the area. In contrast, there were 47 disturbances and 14 fights during the entire 2012-13 school year, said Lt. Tobey Harrison with the Cedar Rapids Police Department.

"I think we have seen a bigger spike in a short period of time," Harrison said. "(Those involved) have been a little more contemptuous. They've shown more disrespect ... It's frustrating."

Neither Harrison nor Police Chief Wayne Jerman, who also attended the hourlong meeting in the Taylor Elementary cafeteria, could say what accounted for the increased criminal activity this year though Harrison noted that incidents historically spike during the summer months when students are out of school.

The group committing the acts – which include verbal harassment and physical violence – range in age from 4 or 5 to late teens and young adults, Harrison said, and there's a core member of people involved but others filter in and out of the unit. Harrison reported that the incidents have decreased recently, with one reported disturbance and two fights since July 29, as police presence has increased and officers have worked to address loitering near the school.

Edith Chase, who said she's lived in the neighborhood for 25 years and her children are Taylor alums, said the issues have gotten worse over the last five years to the point where she won't let her grandchild play in the park area near the school.

"I'm scared," Chase said. "I don't know what the solution is. Until kids have respect for their elders again, this problem is not going away."

She was one of many vocal community members at during the meeting, who offered solutions including enhanced curfew enforcement, increased supervision and holding parents and guardians accountable for their children's behavior.

Taylor Elementary Principal Brian Christoffersen said he's concerned that the activity is making Taylor students, who began classes on July 25, and their families afraid to visit the school, which he called the neighborhood's center.

"There's no magic button," he said of eliminating the criminal behavior. "I think it's a community problem and it's going to take multiple creative solutions and a lot of collaboration."

Police Chief Jerman said the meeting was "a big step" in working to reduce the neighborhood's crime issues.

"It's not something that's going to happen overnight or be simple," Jerman said. "But it is attainable."
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