Public Safety

Profile: Iowa City police officer begins nighttime community outreach

Iowa City police Officer Travis Graves patrols the Ped Mall area earlier this month in downtown Iowa City. The officer is moving from patrol to the newly created role as night community outreach officer. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
Iowa City police Officer Travis Graves patrols the Ped Mall area earlier this month in downtown Iowa City. The officer is moving from patrol to the newly created role as night community outreach officer. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
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IOWA CITY — Travis Graves sees his new job — as the Iowa City Police Department’s nighttime community outreach officer — as an opportunity to work with local businesses and residents to make the community better.

A patrol officer for five years, Graves, 31, said he will split his time between addressing neighborhood quality-of-life concerns and coordinating activities with businesses and the Iowa City Downtown District’s nighttime mayor.

Graves’ position combines the roles of two existing positions — neighborhood response officer and downtown liaison officer. The people in those jobs typically work day shifts, Graves said, and the city saw a need to extend those services into the night.

So he’ll be working 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. Tuesday through Saturday.

“Both the neighborhood response officer and downtown liaison officer have provided great benefits to the community over the last five years,” Iowa City Police Chief Jody Matherly said. “As a result, the department has created (this) new position to assist our current two officers. Officer Graves is the perfect match.”

As part of his duties, Graves will work with landlords, tenants, neighborhood associations and city staffers to address neighborhood issues. He also will team up with Downtown Liaison Officer Colin Fowler to establish relationships and communication channels with local businesses and pedestrians. He is to serve as a positive, visible presence throughout the downtown and north side.

“The Downtown District and surrounding neighborhood residents advocated for this position,” Downtown District Executive Director Nancy Bird said. “We hope to replicate the success realized by the police department’s daytime beat downtown, and neighborhood response officer, in reducing calls for service through proactive engagement.”

Though he will miss some aspects of working as a patrol officer, Graves said he views this new position as an opportunity to help people in a different way.

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“I feel like I can make a difference in this role,” he said. “I’ve been working in community outreach the past two years, and I have already established a lot of relationships with downtown business owners and residents in the area.”

Graves said he will spend much of the time on his feet, walking around the downtown, talking with business owners and community members and helping them solve problems.

“It’s my job to make sure they’re happy,” he said. “I work to resolve neighborhood issues and make sure people are happy where they live, and I work with business owners to make sure they are happy where they work. And that’s something I am happy to do.”

Sgt. Derek Frank, who supervises Graves and the other outreach officers, said the positions focus on proactive and preventive policing.

“It’s taking more a problem-solving and big-picture approach to issues happening in a neighborhood or downtown,” he said. “So instead of just responding to issues that are happening at that time, we can take a more proactive and preventive approach, develop a clearer picture of what the problem is and work with the neighborhood or people to help solve it.”

Frank described Graves as a go-getter who will dive into the position with both feet.

“He’s driven,” Frank said of Graves. “He likes to be engaged in his work and he looks for work to do, which is what will make him a good fit for this position. Because they’re not constantly responding to calls for service, a lot falls on our outreach officers to go out and find the work, and I think Travis will be good at that.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8238; kat.russell@thegazette.com

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