The shooting on the State Street Campus Ramp Oct. 28 marked the fifth homicide in Madison this year, and while this number is comparatively low to homicides in the past, such offenses continue to be a concern for city officials.

According to the Madison Police Department’s Annual Reports, homicide rates over the years have been on the rise. Last year alone, 11 homicides were reported, surpassing the previous record of 10, set in 2008. In years prior, Madison has seen anywhere from two to eight murders per year.

While two months still remain until the new year, five homicides is relatively low for a city of Madison’s size, MPD spokesperson Joel DeSpain said of the current 2018 statistics.

“There is never a good number,” DeSpain said. “But if the number of homicides reaches seven or eight, and especially double digits, then it is considered to be high for Madison.”

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In many instances, Madison Mayor Paul Soglin said, a shooting will take place because of a dispute over old relationships, or because of personal vendettas. On occasion, the violence is gang-related, but recently, most homicides occur because of personal issues, he said.

Of the five homicides this year, two of the three were domestic violence related, resulting in murder-suicide. According to the MPD incident report, the first murder-suicide occurred this year on April 1, in which a man shot and killed his son before killing himself with a firearm. The second murder-suicide incident happened Sept. 2, when a man with a history of domestic abuse shot and killed the woman he had been dating at the time in her home, before killing himself. As reported by the Wisconsin State Journal, the woman was a mother of five and was killed while two of her children were home.  

Both Soglin and DeSpain conceded the difficulty in preventing murder-suicides but pointed to the number of efforts being made to prevent typical homicide scenarios. Soglin specifically highlighted the Peer Support program, an effort by the city to reduce violent crime through certified staff that have lived through and been involved with such crimes.

“[Peer Support staff] have done a wonderful job in terms of diffusing situations,” Soglin said. “When there is a shooting, the team goes into a mode where they work with the victims, and their family and associates, and with the perpetrator and witnesses. If there is trouble brewing, we get in there and make sure it doesn’t end up with a horrible outcome.”

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Soglin stressed the value of the certified staff members to youth, specifically. Young people need a responsible adult role model in their life, and not just a month-long mentor or tutor, he said.

With that in mind, the Peer Support staff work intensively with youth to build relationships and set them on a better path.

Soglin said $400,000 went into the program this year, and an additional $300,000 is being recommended to expand the program and get ahead of violence in the city.

MPD also focuses their efforts on community building, with programs such as Community Outreach and Resource Education programming that works to break down barriers between youth and police, Amigos en Azul which dissolves cultural barriers between police and the Latino community, and education resource officers stationed at local high schools as a source of contact for students.

“We are doing what we can to intervene,” DeSpain said. “We are doing what we can to put young people on a better path, and to encourage them to find a way forward that is away from crime.”

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Preventing violence, and thus homicides, starts with changing behavior at an early age, both Soglin and DeSpain said.

Many of those involved in violent crimes either witnessed domestic violence or were raised in an environment of violence as a child, Soglin said.

“This is an area of frustration because as a city government, we don’t have statutory access to the records and to these juveniles, as those are subject to state and county regulations,” Soglin said. “A group of us have been meeting latterly from the city, county, non-profits and school districts and we are attempting to deal with these young people who range in age from toddlers experiencing their first trauma to teenagers. That’s the future, and that’s what we have to do.”