Community conversation

In the wake of a fatal shooting, Pleasant Valley looks for ways to end violence, bring peace

-Messenger photo by Chad Thompson Tierre Pettigrew, of Fort Dodge, talks about the possibility of adding a big brothers and sisters program to help encourage youth in the area during a community meeting at the Mini Park Wednesday night.

Whether improving city parks or decreasing criminal activity, the entire Fort Dodge community must work together, city officials who gathered for a meeting at the Mini Park in Pleasant Valley said Wednesday night.

The meeting served as a platform for residents to talk about improvements to the neighborhood’s park and to the greater Pleasant Valley community.

It was held in response to a fatal shooting in Pleasant Valley Sunday morning, according to organizer Sherry Washington, who lives in Pleasant Valley.

About 40 people attended.

Washington said the tragedy has brought people together.

-Messenger photo by Chad Thompson Fort Dodge Police Capt. Ryan Gruenberg takes notes during a community meeting at the Mini Park Wednesday night. Attendees were offered a platform to voice their concerns and suggestions for improving the Mini Park, Pleasant Valley, and Fort Dodge.

“With the last tragedy, it shows we are more together than apart,” she said. “This was a loss for our African American community. For our whole community.”

One topic mentioned by attendees was how police patrol Pleasant Valley.

Fort Dodge Police Chief Roger Porter said it’s something he plans to address.

“We try to patrol all areas of the city, but you only have a certain number of officers who are out and when the busy times of the days and nights hit, they are typically responding to calls throughout the whole city,” he said. “There are times where they might be running for a couple hours answering calls for service, whether an assault, a theft or a traffic accident. That might take two cars and then all the sudden you are a half a shift down. It’s hard to just get down and do general patrolling. But we do try to hit areas of city as often as we possibly can. It’s a lot of reactive patrolling for the patrol division. It’s tough.”

“It’s going to depend on staffing and our call volumes at that time,” he added. “I can’t say we will have someone down here every hour. I wish we could say that, but I can’t say that because we have a responsibility to the entire city. There’s 25,000 people in this city so we have that responsibility. We are going to do our best. We have been talking to the command staff to see what we can do. It’s going to be a lot of work and adjusting to figure out a plan. I think the biggest thing is having the police and the community siding together.”

-Messenger photo by Chad Thompson About 40 people gathered for a community meeting at the Mini Park in Pleasant Valley Wednesday night. City officials were on hand to field questions from attendees on how to improve Pleasant Valley and Fort Dodge.

Dessie Amerison, of Fort Dodge, said people bring their problems down to Pleasant Valley.

“Most of the stuff that happens in Pleasant Valley doesn’t come from the people that live here,” she said. “People bring trouble down here. They don’t even live down here.”

The park is closed at 10:30 p.m. every day.

Eugene Newsome, who is running for an at-large seat on the Fort Dodge City Council, asked what can be done to address people who congregate in the street near the park, even after the park is closed.

Porter said although no law is in place to prevent people from doing so, people can still be charged if they are being disruptive.

-Messenger photo by Chad Thompson Dessie Amerison, of Fort Dodge, listens during a community meeting at the Mini Park in Pleasant Valley Wednesday night.

“If they are being loud in the streets, there are things we can do,” he said. “It’s a situational thing.”

Program for kids

Tierre Pettigrew, of Fort Dodge, mentioned the possibility of starting a program similar to the Big Brothers Big Sisters of America.

“We need to start building kids up before they get to this place,” he said.

He said building relationships can help kids stay on track.

“It would be a good idea for kids to have more role models,” Pettigrew said. “When we build relationships that’s when things change. If they are struggling with something they can talk about it. Not every kid is comfortable talking to their parents about what they are going through.”

“When I was growing up, I had neighbors and uncles that would talk to me,” he said. “We watched what they did. We watched what grown ups were doing and we knew how to act. It depends who you have in your life. If you don’t have an adult, you turn to your friends.”

He said social media can be a negative when it comes to developing social skills.

“Like communicating on social media — it’s something negative or a world tragedy,” he said. “We are all humans. We all face challenges. We need to talk about these, not just on social media.”

The park

Lori Branderhorst, the city’s director of parks, recreation and forestry, spoke about upcoming improvements to the Mini Park.

“About 10 years ago we embarked to improve the parks,” she said. “We talked about addressing tired parks.”

Branderhorst said the Mini Park had been identified as a “tired park.”

To address that, new play equipment should be installed within three weeks, she said.

A new 20-foot by 20-foot open shelter will also be added.

“We want to move the neighborhood forward by tackling this project,” she said.

Branderhorst also mentioned removing some fencing and moving some amenities away from the street for improved safety.

“It’s about you and your neighborhood,” she said. “I hope this can be a catalyst project to help build, connect and sustain a neighborhood.”

Renaming the park, adding banners and organizing more community events were other suggested ideas.

Troy Schroeder, of Fort Dodge, asked about adding 360 degree cameras near the park.

Porter said it was a topic he discussed earlier in the day.

Mayor Matt Bemrich said the city may revisit the matter.

“Almost every Fort Dodge park has its issues,” he said. “In general, the cameras will just take the issues somewhere else.”

He also said price is factor.

“The cameras are also very expensive, but we may look into it again,” he said.

Bemrich said one thing people can improve on now is reporting to police.

“It takes all of us,” he said. “We need to report what we see to police. Don’t wait for your neighbor to do it. That’s how we can make a difference. It’s all of us.”

Porter said the meeting served as a starting point.

“You have to start somewhere,” he said. “We have to work together to make this happen. It’s something that has been an ongoing issue for a number of years, so it’s nothing that’s going to get fixed overnight or after one conversation.”

“The thing I am taking away from this is this is the first step,” Porter said.

“I have been talking to Sherry the past couple of days and I have known her for many years. I think this is the first step in trying to improve communication, not just down here, but with all residents. One of the platforms when I became chief, I wanted to improve communications and community activities. That needs to happen, especially in today’s society.”