Do You Feel Safer?

by Safety Connection

Do you feel safer in Madison than you did 3 years ago?

Here’s the good news. Through September, Madison crime statistics are down in all categories except stolen autos.

But before we celebrate those crime stats too much, let’s first keep in mind that the numbers are being compared to 2020—an unprecedented year with a global pandemic and nationwide civil unrest.

Take burglaries and retail thefts, for example. It was much more difficult to break into houses last year when most residents were working or being schooled at home. There also weren’t as many opportunities to shoplift when stores were only offering curbside pick-up. And because residents were sheltering in place and businesses, restaurants and bars were closed or had limited hours, it also became much more difficult to rob a bank or business or steal the wallet and phone from an inebriated bar patron stumbling home at 3am on State Street.

Our city has recorded 171 reported shots fired incidents through September. If we toss out 2020 as an outlier—(when 250 shots fired incidents occurred) that 2021 YTD shots fired tally of 171 compares to 144 for all of 2019 and 186 for all of 2018. These incidents are not trending lower and they are getting more dangerous. Last night two adults and 3 children were home when a bullet entered their home on the west side. Police say they were not the targets. Two weeks ago homeowners near West Towne had a frightening experience after the occupants of two vehicles were shooting at each other on a city street. One of the bullets entered their home and struck an occupied bed. Thankfully the person in that bed wasn’t injured.

And before we take a closer look at some of the other crimes that have occurred so far this year, let’s remember that crime statistics are more than numbers—behind every one of those stats is someone who has been victimized in our community. Nine families have lost precious loved ones to gun violence. Through September there have been 581 stolen auto victims. And gunfire has erupted over 171 different times across our city, and some of those bullets have killed or injured people and have struck vehicles and buildings.

Residents we talk to are on edge not because of the number of crimes that are occurring, but because of the severity of those crimes. Earlier this year a pregnant woman was run over when a man tried to steal her car at a gas station on a busy street on a Sunday afternoon.

And over the last two months, residents of one quiet west side neighborhood have been terrorized by a serial carjacker.

A mom and her two children were driving on a residential street back in August when their vehicle was hit by gunfire.

And several disturbing shots fired incidents and a tragic homicide of a 17-year-old young man near Camp Randall occurred in August at the same time as students were moving back into apartments on the UW campus.

Some of these violent incidents are happening in places frequented by families and children, like Penn Park where a shooting in the afternoon on Labor Day became the city’s eighth homicide.

“The community has been overwhelmingly upset by this shooting in Penn Park. Many neighbors, alders and community leaders have expressed frustration with this shooting because Penn Park had made such great progress in recent years in hosting important events and youth sports.”

MPD South District Captain Mike Hanson

These types of crimes rattle residents’ sense of safety and affect the quality of life in Madison in big and small ways. And while these crimes are not new to Madison, even just a few years ago they used to occur with much less frequency and often overnight when most people were sleeping. Now these incidents can happen at any time of the day or night—like this shots-fired incident in a busy store parking lot on the west side during evening rush hour.

Or this incident where a Middleton High School student was the victim of a stranger shooting on the Beltline during the noon hour back in early May. Earlier this month, suspects pulled into a busy gas station at 6:20pm and shot at someone they were allegedly targeting. In the police report it described customers “running, ducking or otherwise hiding from the gunfire.” Again, that was at 6:20pm on a Wednesday evening before sunset. What is happening, Madison?

A command staff officer from an agency that borders our city told us recently that “home break-ins” in the county used to typically involve someone peeking in your windows during the day and then breaking in when they were sure nobody was home. These days some thieves don’t care if residents are home or not which is what happened to this Madison pastor and his family recently. MPD stats show that out of the 78 burglaries that occurred across the city in September, residents were home at the time of the crime in 28 of those incidents.

And when victims react to or try to stop a crime, they sometimes find themselves staring down the barrel of a gun like this victim who stumbled upon what appears to be a catalytic converter theft attempt earlier this week. Or this man who confronted four teens who had entered his garage. Or these City Streets employees who had a terrifying experience with a man with a gun after they reacted to almost being hit by his speeding car in their work zone.

Weapons violations and gun violence calls are also much more complex and labor-intensive for police to respond to and investigate—at a time when MPD is severely short-staffed and having trouble filling critical hard daily minimum staffing levels.

And if your police department is having difficulties staffing enough officers to respond to calls when the crime stats are lower, imagine how difficult it will be when calls for service return to more pre-pandemic levels.

(MPD responded to almost 20,000 fewer calls in 2020 compared to 2019)

MPD is having to shift to priority-only call status much more often. When that happens, 911 dispatchers only send officers to more serious calls where someone’s life might be in danger or there is a weapon involved or there is an accident with injuries blocking traffic. All other calls are triaged and stack up until there are enough available officers to once again service those calls. On Labor Day there was a time in the evening when only one officer was available to respond to 911 calls in the entire city. And last Sunday a dispatcher had to ask for mutual aid so that other agencies’ officers would respond to Madison calls.

Don’t take our word for it. Please download a free police radio app and hear for yourself how often the city is put on priority-only call status. Listen to how often the dispatcher relays a message from the MPD Officer in Charge asking for volunteers for overtime shifts or he/she holds over officers when enough volunteers can’t be found. Hear how chaotic things get when only one or two officers are available to answer police calls for the entire city. Or better yet, take a ride-along with a patrol officer and experience it in person.

You pay taxes for city services, and that includes public safety. Are you willing to wait an hour or more for a police response if your vehicle is stolen from your driveway, or if there’s a drug transaction going on in front of your apartment building? Is it okay that people are ducking bullets at gas stations and city parks and neighborhoods in broad daylight and that our streets have become raceways for stolen car thieves?

And if MPD is having difficulties staffing enough officers to respond to calls when the crime stats are lower, imagine how difficult it will be when calls for service return to more pre-pandemic levels (MPD responded to almost 20,000 fewer calls in 2020 compared to 2019).

If you’re concerned for your safety, please take just a few minutes to contact your alder, the mayor and your police chief. They need to hear from YOU. Let them know how you feel and what you expect as a taxpaying resident of Madison. Regardless of what the latest statistics show, crime in our city is changing. The severity of crimes and when they can occur is NOT just a figment of your imagination.

To email the Mayor and all alders use:

For Police Chief Barnes you can type your message into this easy online form.

And if you’d like to thank our understaffed police department and the police officers, detectives and investigators who patrol our streets and assist victims and tirelessly investigate and solve these crimes, you can type a message of support into this online form or you can send cards or letters to your closest MPD district station.

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