Madison’s homicide count for 2008 increased to five this summer, after a man allegedly stabbed his girlfriend at their home a few miles south of the University of Wisconsin campus.

The mid-July crime follows four other homicides since January; there were a total of eight for all of 2007.

Last year, UW-Whitewater student Kelly Nolan disappeared and was later found dead just outside Madison. In 2008, the homicide victims include UW junior Brittany Zimmermann and 31-year-old Madison resident Joel Marino.

Despite residents’ concerns with the number of homicides, city officials say criminality is not necessarily on the rise in Madison.

“In terms of averages, homicides in Madison are rare,” said Joel Plant, assistant to Mayor Dave Cieslewicz. “To have a handful of homicides a year for a city our size is common.”

Zimmermann was stabbed inside of her downtown apartment last April, heightening safety awareness downtown, especially among UW students.”

According to Plant, these murders have rattled Madison residents more than usual because they appear to be random.

“Stranger homicides are the most difficult to solve,” said Madison Police Department spokesperson Joel DeSpain.

After police eliminate friends and relatives, they begin methodically looking at anyone with a criminal record in the area where the killing occurred, DeSpain added.

While police are still investigating the Zimmermann case, MPD arrested 20-year-old UW dropout Adam Peterson on June 26 at his parent’s home in Stillwater, Minn., for allegedly stabbing Marino in January.

Although Peterson’s criminal proceedings are still in process, police have both DNA evidence from the crime scene and a recorded phone call Peterson made to his father in which he admitted to stabbing Marino.

DeSpain said a number of students come to UW from small towns where things like locking doors are less of a concern, making downtown crimes “simply crimes of opportunity.”

“It’s so important for students to be mindful of their own safety and aware of their surroundings,” Dean of Students Lori Berquam said. “It’s important to recognize that Madison is a big city even though we like to think of it as smaller sometimes.”

Plant said the city does not take homicides lightly, and authorities are focusing on three areas of prevention: education, enforcement and environment.

“Crime prevention, in terms of city government reaches much further than the police department,” Plant said.

The Offices of the Dean of Students, UW and Madison police departments will be launching a new safety campaign this August when new students begin to move in.

Berquam and others will be visiting off-campus student neighborhoods August 15, when most apartment leases start, to “have a conversation with students about their safety.” They will be offering bottles of water along with magnets that provide important safety tips.

“You’ve got a whole new group of students, many who’ve never heard those things before,” DeSpain said.

The downtown safety initiative, the neighborhood police and educational programs for students are a few of the things the city of Madison is doing to prevent crime downtown Madison.

An editing error in the original copy was corrected. A hyphen was missing in “off-campus.”