Let’s Catch Up: October 2021
TUESDAY: DON’T FORGET TO VOTE!
November 2 is Election Day for Iowa’s municipalities and school districts. If you haven’t already cast a ballot (mailed an absentee ballot or voted early at Polk County Election Office), Tuesday is the day for your civic duty.
DE-ESCALATION TRAINING IN THE BOOKS. HOW DID IT GO?
More than 400 Des Moines Police Department members—including all administration staff, detectives, beat cops, and dispatchers—recently completed 16 hours of de-escalation training at a facility near Camp Dodge. Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) trainers led eight classes through the Integrating Communications, Assessment and Tactics (ICAT) program. The City invested $148,436 in the training.
“We learned some different strategies and tactical approaches for things we were already doing,” says Alberto Marquez, a four-year veteran of the force, who described the two days of ICAP classes in August as the best training he’s attended as a DMPD officer.
One of his big pluses was sitting in the same room with dispatchers, detectives, and the administrative staff. Open conversation flowed. “This put everyone on a level playing field,” says communications administrator Brad Button. “This training will impact the team aspect throughout our building.”
PERF executive director Chuck Wexler agreed. “If the dispatcher asks the right questions and gets the right info to the cop, the information becomes so invaluable on how the officer responds.”
After a day of classroom work, the Washington, D.C.-based PERF team set up scenarios with retired officers, active officers, and actors. All DMPD officers worked through three scenarios:
· Despondent individual with a knife in a confined outside space; only threat to himself.
· College student in a classroom who had just received his first failing grade. He had a baseball bat and was a threat to his professor and classmates.
· An individual was fired from his job and armed with a knife. He intended to damage his boss’ car. Wide-open space.
“For first responders, emotions are high and rational thinking is low,” says Don Alioto, PERF senior principal, who led the Des Moines classes. “The officer’s job is to get the two—emotions and thinking—closer in alignment, then listen to what individuals are saying. And get a good outcome.
“So often, when police are dealing with someone in crisis, they are only a threat to harming themselves or making others uncomfortable. It doesn’t involve a criminal act. Our training is to listen to understand—not respond. Don’t get caught up in the culture of speed. Take a tactical pause. Wait until you’re in a really good spot.”
Don says he was impressed with everyone’s attentiveness: “These were some of the most pleasurable classes that I’ve led. There was a lot of note-taking and great conversation after classes.”
Alberto and his partner, Angel Perez, credits the new tactical approach with preserving the safety of innocent bystanders not long after they attended the class.
A DMPD dispatcher summoned the duo to a second-story apartment, in which an individual was suffering from a meth withdrawal. Also present were the 911 caller—a female friend of the individual— and the individual’s girlfriend. “There were narcotics and mental health issues to resolve,” Alberto describes. “The adult male appeared to be bipolar, going from extremely violent to compliant.”
The dispatcher arranged for the civilian mobile crisis team to park nearby. “We had all the resources we could have,” Alberto remembers. “We didn’t rush in. We took a little bit of time to get a feel of what was going down.”
What they saw was the individual had his girlfriend in a bear hug. The officers talked the individual through it. The two women left safely. “My partner and I didn’t do anything to bring up the stress level—we just glided through the situation,” Alberto recalls. “We remained calm.
“And at the end of my shift, I was content with the outcome. We had preserved the safety of innocent bystanders.”
MORE GUNS TAKEN OFF THE STREET
By year’s end, the Des Moines Police should set a department record for the number of guns taken off the street. As of a couple of weeks ago, 345 had been removed. In 2020, 381 guns were eliminated, more than one gun a day. Guns have been seized during commission of crimes, from felons illegally possessing them, and from underage youth.
Beginning July 1, a new Iowa law legalized carrying a handgun in most public places—permits optional.
DOGTOWN LIGHTING IN THE WORKS
As part of Invest DSM initiatives, Wells Fargo has agreed to underwrite a $75,000 lighting display for the Drake Neighborhood’s Dogtown Business District. Eleanor Kahn, a Chicago-based artist and Drake Neighborhood artist-in-resident, has teamed with Mike Lambert, a local lighting designer, to celebrate winter—in Dogtown fashion—along University Avenue between 23rd and 24th streets. Look for details as mid-December approaches.
BROADWAY RETURNS TO THE CIVIC CENTER
The national touring company of The Band’s Visit—winner of 10 Tony Awards, including Best Musical—wrapped up eight performances in October. It marked the first Willis Broadway Series performance in Des Moines since February 2020.
Attendees had to present a vaccination card or evidence of a recent negative COVID test, and pick up playbills from a table. The Civic Center also completed HVAC upgrades to improve air exchanges.
“We were pleased to welcome folks back to a place they hadn’t been in 19 months,” communications director Jonathan Brendemuehl reports. “We had good crowds for all eight performances. The road to the return of Broadway has been a positive experience.”
Touring companies report about 25% no-shows nationally. Des Moines attendance mirrored those numbers.
Tootsie, the next musical in the Willis Broadway Series, opens February 8.
KIND WORDS ABOUT THE SAVING THE VARSITY THEATRE
In an article about independent theaters, Washington Post film critic Ann Hornaday recently wrote glowing words about the Varsity Theatre. Des Moines Film, a local nonprofit, is driving a $3 million campaign to reopen the shuttered movie house in Drake’s Dogtown. Click on this link to donate.
PARK VISITORS LOVE THEIR PLAQUES
Jacob Naumann, yellow vest, and Ryan Clutter, olive jacket, install the first batch of commemorative plaques Tuesday afternoon on the Chris and Marcie Coleman Bridge in Gray’s Lake Park. These Parks and Recreation volunteers had 20-plus first-time plaques to install on the recently dedicated bridge. Jacob and Ryan will install another 40 plaques on the Riverview Park Bridge and add a handful of new plaques to the Fifth Street/Jackson Street/Green Bridge.
Commemorative plaques are now available for $200 each on a bridge. A similar plaque program for the Gray’s Lake Park Bridge railings is sold out. Proceeds support local causes.
Interested in a commemorative plaque? Details: https://www.dsm.city/departments/parks_and_recreation-division/programs/bridge_plaques.php
NUGGETS FROM 2020 COMPLETE STREETS REPORT
At Wednesday’s all-day work session, City Council members and the public got the first look at the 2020 Complete Streets Report, the second annual. Here are some highlights:
· Driving in 2020 during the pandemic was more dangerous, as motorists’ behavior and psychology shifted:
- Vehicle miles driven (VMT) dropped 40% initially, then leveled off at 15% below average.
- Despite fewer VMT, fatalities increased, jumping from 15 to 23, including three multiple-fatality crashes, resulting in eight deaths.
- “Lost control” entered the top 10 major causes for crashes at No. 4, indicating people were driving faster and more recklessly.
- In addition, the Iowa Department of Transportation (DOT) reported a record number of speeding tickets issued for traveling in excess of 100 mph.
· Vulnerable users, including pedestrians, cyclists, and motorcyclists, were disproportionately killed or seriously injured in crashes. It was a particularly rough year for motorcyclists, whose deaths rose 26%.
· Des Moines is steadily closing sidewalk gaps, adding bike facilities, and installing Americans With Disability Act-compliant ramps at intersections. But, we’re not accelerating to the finish line.
· In 2020, new concrete closed 7.06 miles of Priority 1 sidewalk gaps, including City and private projects.
Neighborhood traffic-calming requests are through the roof. “Drivers are going too fast” is the No. 1 complaint Council members hear from residents.
FIRST LOOK: FOOD SECURITY TASK FORCE REPORT
Also, at Wednesday’s work session, members of the Food Security Task Force shared their report, packed with information to assist residents with urban agriculture and sustainability info, and recommendations for best practices. Two of them:
1. Create a specific Des Moines Municipal Code Chapter to address urban farming. For example, the line between hoophouses (generally, temporary structures) and greenhouses (permanent structures) isn’t well defined.
2. Reconvene the Task Force for another six months, focused on commercial urban farming, food access, food waste, and protecting the other ancillary systems, as well as resources that ensure food security.
Here’s information from FEED DSM.
4-WAY STOP SIGN COMING TO EAST 5TH AND GRAND
At its October 18 meeting, the City Council voted 7-0 to make East Fifth and Grand a four-way stop. The intersection, the site of four businesses, was the only corner between East 12th and 18th streets near the Central Campus lacking a four-way traffic control. The Historic East Village Neighborhood Association petitioned the Council to add the stop sign for the safety of pedestrians.
HISTORIC HOTEL FORT DES MOINES REOPENS
The gran damme of Des Moines hospitality—the Hotel Fort Des Moines at Tenth and Walnut Streets—is now welcoming guests. The hotel hosted 12 U.S. presidents, Nikita Khrushchev, Mae West, and Charles Lindbergh, in its storied history. And who could forget Tiny Tim, who took up residency here in the 1990s?
The reopening of the 1919 hotel, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was delayed a year due to COVID. The two-story lobby—covered for 60 years during a remuddling—has reappeared in its original glory. Yes, worth a trip downtown to check it out.
Hawkeye Hotels closed the building in 2015; it has reopened as part of Hilton Hotel’s Curio Collection.
The price tag on the remodel and update: $50 million.
3 MILES OF NEW TRACK; SPIKES DRIVEN BY HAND
At the Des Moines Industrial building site, crews are laying nearly three new miles of railroad track for the transloading facility. And guess what? They’re driving those railroad spikes the old-fashioned 1800s way—one whack of the sledgehammer at a time.
Gabe Claypool, COO of Des Moines Industrial, reports it takes a crew member 6 to 10 swings of the hammer to drive home each spike. This week, crews started pouring tons of ballast between the new rails and tracks.
The 31-acre transportation hub along East ML King will provide warehousing and access to Iowa Interstate, Norfolk Southern, and BNSF railroads. The facility is on schedule to be open in early 2022.