Proposed tweaks clarify SAFE-CR rules

Cedar Rapids considers changes to align with new state law

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CEDAR RAPIDS — Protections for crime victims would be expanded and clarified under proposed tweaks to the Cedar Rapids nuisance property ordinance called SAFE-CR.

The City Council gave preliminary approval Tuesday to amendments to the ordinance. The council could vote for final approval Aug. 23.

“We wanted to make sure it is clear in the event of a domestic violence incident that a call for help would not be counted against the property,” Mayor Ron Corbett said after the meeting. “The amendment to the ordinance clarifies that so there is no ambiguity in the law.”

The ordinance, which uses calls for police or other emergency services to help identify nuisance properties and hold the property owners accountable, has received pushback from victim advocates, landlords and others who say it has a chilling effect on reporting crime.

The city convened focus groups to overhaul the rules to ensure people didn’t feel pressure to avoid calling law enforcement in emergencies. The ordinance differentiates between founded and unfounded reports in counting calls for service.

Earlier this year, legislators approved a law restricting use of 911 calls as evidence for determining troublesome properties when the calls concern victims in emergency situations, such as domestic abuse. Advocates used the old Cedar Rapids ordinance as ammunition in calling for a “right to assistance” law, although city officials said victims had never been penalized under it.

The proposed amendment defines a victim as a “person who has suffered harm as a result of abuse or crime that was perpetrated directly against that person.” Also proposed is swapping the word “and” to an “or” when explaining calls that are exempt, which in effect expands exempt calls.

“We used ‘victim of a crime’ in the ordinance often,” said Amanda Grieder, SAFE-CR nuisance property abatement program manager. “We felt it was important to define it since it wasn’t before, so it would be easier for the public to understand.”

In practice, the amendments shouldn’t alter how SAFE-CR works, but rather ensure the language of the ordinance is more transparent to how it works in practice, Grieder said.

City data shows there are 126 active nuisance properties, including 72 owner-occupied properties, 52 rentals and two commercial properties.

The ordinance allows the city to charge property owners in violation for the cost of responding to service calls. Under the policy, the city has billed 56 properties $42,052, according to a city report.

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