Let's Catch Up - July 2021
When 28 freshly minted Des Moines police officers graduated from the City’s 79th Police Academy in mid-May, an equal number of veteran police officers seated nearby were glowing, inside and out. Those experienced officers, who volunteered to mentor academy candidates, watched with pride as DMPD badges were pinned for the first time above left pockets.
It was a proud day for the graduates and the mentors for another reason: For the first time in recent memory, 100% of the academy class graduated. Commonly, candidates leave the academy, some realizing police work isn’t for them, others who don’t meet DMPD standards.
Early in the 24-week academy, department leadership assigns an experienced officer to navigate a candidate through the rigors. Then, at weekly meetings, the pairs take a deeper dive into classwork, tune up for the physical standards, fill in the gaps in public-safety lingo, and answer personal questions about a successful career while balancing home and family responsibilities.
Senior Officer Lindsey Kenkel, an eight-year DMPD officer, was assigned to Andrea Brouwer, an educator for 18 years before applying to the academy. Lindsey became interested in a public safety career while working as a part-time emergency medical technician for the Johnston-Grimes Fire Department.
Police work, even in a small city, like Des Moines, can be complex. On one of Andrea’s first nights on patrol, she recalls, the pair handled the theft of a catalytic converter, a traffic stop, and burglary. “Lots of domestic calls in the first week,” she related. “And all different paperwork. And I’ve learned how to label a victim scenario when there wasn’t one clear example on the report form.”
Andrea impressed Lindsey with her organized learning. “Andrea put together study guides for her classmates—that’s the teacher in her,“ Lindsey says. “And she wasn’t too afraid to ask one of the instructors or me a question.”
Lindsey also recalls that Andrea didn’t want to fall behind on her physical standards after injuring a shoulder while at the academy. So they connected for some physical therapy.
“I appreciate all the time Lindsey spent with me,” Andrea says. “And she’s still putting up with me! Lindsey is so gracious about answering my questions—emails, texts, phone calls.”
Senior Officer Brian Foster, with 14 years in law enforcement, including three in Des Moines, was paired with Alan Kent, a 2019 naturalized citizen who immigrated from London, England, after marrying a Central College student he met during her semester abroad. Alan’s introduction to American policing included weapons training (“I had only shot a gun once or twice”), and legal issues such as domestic violence and no-contact orders. “Luckily,” he says, “the officers I’ve met are good at sharing procedures.”
Also, Alan took a lot of razzing about his English accent and slang. “We worked on saying ‘hood’ rather than ‘bonnet’,” Brian recalls with a chuckle. “Or a ‘parking lot’ rather than their ‘car park.’ He’s got the American lingo pretty well managed now.”
Over lunches in small mentor/candidate groups or just the two of them at Jethro’s Southside, Brian realized how well Alan eased into the ideal U.S. police model of connecting with individuals.
“What I noticed about Alan is the great way he talked with people,” Brian reports. “He has a very trusting demeanor when on duty. Another time, he picked up on a suspect’s deception—the person wasn’t forthcoming. Good skills.”
The graduating cadets are probationary police officers for the first year. In Phase 1, they spend 20 working days observing one officer. In Phase 2, the new officer takes control—with a veteran officer in “the shadow,” if necessary. If they pass muster after their probation, the newest officers are on their own—but the mentor connection can last throughout their careers.
RETURNING TO THE OFFICE: YOU CAN’T MAKE UP THIS STUFF
As we all know, businesses across the metro have begun rolling out plans for employees to return to the office. Here are a few interesting reactions or responses worth sharing. (Company names withheld.)
At one downtown insurance company, everyone is expected to be in the office three days during the week. One question brought forward to the CEO: “Will we get paid mileage for the days we are to be in the office?”
At a West Des Moines insurance company, the entire IT department decided they could just work from home. Responded the executive team: “Oh, good, we’ll just outsource IT and save some money.” The IT staff reconsidered.
For one locally owned bank, the lengthiest discussion about returning to the office revolved around men wearing ties. Ties prevail. For now.
At a downtown nonprofit, everyone is expected to return to the office and pre-COVID face-to-face community interaction. However, one employee signaled a preference to work from home. After a bit of probing, the employee revealed why: “I moved to Las Vegas in September.”
In one department of four, an individual staked a claim to the in-office days by announcing: “These are the days that work best for my child care schedule.”
IN SEARCH OF NEIGHBORHOOD CHAINSAW ART
Some of my bike friends served up an interesting challenge: Where can we see the best chainsaw art in our neighborhoods? Can you help map out locations for excellent front-yard sculptures created from tree trunks? I’ll collect your suggestions and publish a map. Somewhere in Beaverdale, there’s a giraffe . . .
DEFERRED EXPULSION: SHOWING STUDENTS SOMETHING DIFFERENT
Remember when you opened your first savings or checking account? Who could forget that prized passbook with handwritten entries we tucked safely away in desk or dresser drawers?
Savings passbooks are relics, but opening an account is still a big deal—especially if it’s connected with your first paying job. That’s the highlight takeaway of a conversation earlier this summer with Joseph and Bryan. The two 15-year-old high school students opened new accounts at local institutions because of their first paying summer jobs, through Good Vibes, a neighborhood nonprofit working with youth.
Joseph and Bryan participate in the Des Moines Public School (DMPS) deferred expulsion program, which began in 2015. They’re among 30 or so students identified with unsafe “Level 4 event” behavior—e.g. fighting, weapons, drugs—that lists them for potential expulsion.
“These are kids that no one wants to deal with.” says Negus Imhotep, Urban Dreams case manager. “Most are candidates for the school-to-prison pipeline. So we have a lot of societal issues to deal with.”
Expelling students without service support doesn’t serve the family or community, says Rich Blonigan, who oversees DMPS’ alternative programs. Deferred expulsion is about turning kids around, getting them back on track, and keep them in school. “We work with Urban Dreams to wrap services around the students and find a better situation for them to succeed,” Rich says, referring to the Des Moines nonprofit that became the community partner of the program in 2017.
“For the students, there’s a real positive vibe at Urban Dreams,” Rich adds. “We’re thankful we have partners that want to do this important work.”
"We are thankful to DMPS for thinking outside the box with expulsions,” says Izaah Knox, Urban Dreams executive director. “It is difficult to keep a young person engaged and hopeful for their future if they have no connection to academic and employment opportunities, positive adult role models, and a safe place to go. We coordinate all of that and more.
“This partnership grew from an authentic, and grassroots partnership predicated on assisting young people in our community achieve their dreams. Many have, and many more will succeed because of our long-established trust and dedication to DSM and our residents.”
From offices on Forest Avenue, Negus and Urban Dreams provide case management services. Classroom teachers may drop in; some students work virtually. Students are in the program for 90 days to full semester, depending on their progress. For the three most recent school years, the program has a 64% success rate. For the most recent school year, the program boasts an 88% success rate.
Negus also organized mock job interviews for the boys and helped them and their classmates polish their resumés for that all-important first job. “You should have seen their faces when I told them they had a job!” Negus recalls. Negus also points with pride to two or three program students who joined the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) apprentice program.
“There are a lot of job opportunities that people don’t realize,” says IBEW Local 347 business manager Pat Wells. “We’re looking for people that want to do the job and show up every day.” Recently, Tim Hawthorne signed on as the local’s diversity officer to develop community engagement and identify apprentice candidates.
Good Vibes found summer jobs for Joseph, Bryan, and about 18 other neighborhood kids. They work 10 to 15 hours a week on gardening, yard, and construction projects. Right now, they are rehabbing a house in the neighborhood. “It’s a great introduction of hands-on work and trade skills,” says Good Vibes executive director Maya Bromolson. “They get to invest in their neighborhood and we pay them $10 an hour.”
Good Vibes funding through Future Ready Iowa runs through the summer. Maya hopes to tap other resources to continue after-school and weekend jobs.
Successes—going back to school or signing on to a career—are the goals, but it’s not all roses. “I had three boys who were shot and killed,” Negus says. “I tell the students, ‘Don’t let that be you.’ “We need to show them something different.”
GOING LIVE WITH SOLAR; DOING OUR PART
The heatwaves in the Northwest, the unprecedented severe drought in the West, and the deadly flash flooding in Germany should bring home to each of us the clear and present dangers of climate disaster. How can we, as individuals, and the City of Des Moines do our parts to reduce our carbon footprints and become less reliant on fossil fuels?
Earlier this year, the City Council passed a resolution to develop partnerships that advance a 45% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from 2010 levels by 2030 and to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. We also committed to a communitywide goal of achieving 100% 24x7 electricity from carbon-free sources by 2035, which would make Des Moines one of the first cities to do so. Learn more, and about the City’s other energy initiatives.
For Susan and me, the answer was converting to solar power. Next week, solar panels installed on our East Village garage roof should began generating electricity. A six-person crew from Purelight Power installed the panels in late May, then steered us through the approval process with the City of Des Moines and MidAmerican Energy.
Not only do Susan and I look forward to reducing our $120 monthly MidAmerican Energy budget bill (gas and electric), but excess kilowatts we generate will be credited to our MidAmerican account. We can draw on those credits during cloudy days.
Our solar savings barely makes a blip in the energy consumption in a city our size. Still, we think it’s essential for each of us to do our part to reduce our carbon footprints and become less reliant on fossil fuels.
We understand that not everyone can afford this investment, but you can research other solutions from the DSM Citizen Taskforce members on Sustainability.
10th ANNIVERSARY BIKE CAMP
In mid-June, Randy Damon, Kittie Weston-Knauer, and I volunteered to lead a weeklong bike camp organized by the Des Moines Police Department and sponsored by the Street Collective of Des Moines and the Police Athletic League. It’s the 10th year Kittie and I have volunteered for the activities. So I feel pretty danged lucky to share the duties with two retired schoolteachers, as well as Senior Police Officer Deb VanVelzen, who heads the DMPD Youth Services Division and is a former teacher.
The camp encompasses more than biking—although we did accumulate 90-plus miles for the week! Some highlights included swimming at two public pools, a session on loading bikes onto DART bus racks, a terrific Court Avenue Hy-Vee nutrition tour by dietitian Anne Cundiff, geocaching on three days, and a pontoon boat ride on Easter Lake. And, of course, the week’s big event: biking across the High Trestle Bridge west of Madrid.
To earn a Zombie Burger shake on the last day of bike camp, each youth had to state something they learned in camp. Testimonials included:
Angel: “Change gears only when pedaling!”
Eliza: “When I pedaled harder, I learned how to ‘reel in’ other riders.”
Joell: “Before going uphill, shift DOWN to the biggest cog in the rear.”
Kennedy: “The three main parts of a bike frame are top tube, seat tube, and down tube.”
Nartavious: “After looking left, right, left, call out CLEAR before pedaling.”
Nicki: “Each time your ride, do an ABC quick check on your bike.”
Parker: “I learned all three hand signals for bicyclists.”
Paul: “Raise your seat so your knee is slightly bent when your foot is at 6 o’clock.”
GAME CHANGERS MOBILE MENTAL HEALTH CRISIS RESPONSE
Within weeks, expect to see improvements in how Des Moines and Polk County respond to mental health crisis calls. “This will be a big deal for Des Moines and Polk County,” says Captain Jeff Edwards of the Des Moines Police Department.
After reviewing crisis-response programs in other cities (CAHOOTS in Eugene, Oregon, and STAR in Denver), local mental health experts believed the Crisis Call Diversion Program in Austin, Texas, best fit our community, although Polk County contains about half Austin’s population.
Earlier this month, a delegation of 11 from Des Moines and Polk County spent three jam-packed days in Austin taking a closer look at the program, which rolled out in 2013. The first delegation to witness the Austin model in person, the Iowa dispatchers and supervisors sat in on calls, and mental health clinicians accompanied Austin’s three full-time clinicians in the field. The hosts were generous with their time, with discussions lasting well into the evening.
Participating in the Austin trip were:
DMPD Captain Jeff Edwards, dispatch supervisor Brad Button, Sergeant Lorna Garcia of the mobile crisis team, and senior public safety dispatchers Katie McGhee and Mindy O’Donnell.
Polk County Sheriff’s Office: Major Brent Long, dispatch supervisor Nick Brockman.
Polk County Health Services: Annie Verz of adult mental health services, and Julie Gibbons of children’s mental health services.
Broadlawns Medical Center: DawnMarie Hooker, nurse and supervisor of the mobile crisis response team; and Phil Sullivan, nurse and mobile crisis worker.
Des Moines plans to ramp up its mobile mental health crisis team to 24/7 response in coming weeks. In coming weeks, Expect to learn about other welcome announcements regarding mental health crisis response from Des Moines, Polk County Sheriff’s Office, Broadlawns Medical Center and Polk County Health Services.
THE RETURN OF CIVILITY
The past 15 months have been a grinder for City Council meetings. Council members endured an 11-hour session loaded with Zoom bombing: insults, outbursts, shouts, and cursing. When we returned to in-person meetings in June, disruptors swarmed the Council chambers, grabbed papers off the City Clerk’s desks, stood on chairs, and shouted down the Mayor. We worked our way through the agenda, but not without a lot of pain.
Here’s an interesting quote from Angela Andrews, group director of the National Conference of State Legislatures, penned in 2016:
“In the 2016 Civility in America survey, 79% of respondents believe incivility in government is preventing action on important issues, 76% believe incivility makes it difficult to discuss controversial issues, and 64% have stopped paying attention to political conversations and debates. Incivility in government inspires distrust of public institutions, including legislatures, and those who serve in them.
“As the late Alan Rosenthal, one of the nation’s leading scholars on state legislatures, wrote, ‘The most important effect of incivility is probably on the legislature itself. … The public … has become increasingly cynical about political people, including legislators, and political institutions, including legislatures. … And they are highly critical of what they perceive to be the unnecessary bickering, conflict and deadlock of the legislature. The public has lost confidence in the way the institution and the process work.’ ”
We in City government suffer through similar challenges in our strides to conduct the public’s business. We look forward to the day when residents no longer need to fear attending a Council meeting in person.