In 2020, crime in the United States fell, except for homicides which increased both in Dane County and the U.S. But this increase is far from its historic highs of the 1990s.

Some Madison community and governmental organizations are working to reduce violent crimes in Dane County with varying approaches on how to address the problem holistically — and with keeping racial equity in mind.

Despite the increase in homicides, it’s important for the public to have a sense of balance when looking at crime statistics, according to University of Wisconsin Sociology Professor Pamela Oliver.

“Crime, generally, went down in 2020,” Olivers said. “The only thing that went up were homicides. Notice all the headlines about the homicides and no headlines about everything else going down. So what’s going on with homicides? The answer to that is, we don’t know.”

There are many possible reasons for the uptick, Oliver said. It could be the homicide rate bottoming out after declining for so long, the economic and psychological stresses of the pandemic or the proliferation of guns in the U.S., Oliver said.

There’s no evidence the increase was due to police reform, Oliver said.

“So much happened in 2020, but there’s no evidence that police reform had anything to do with homicides,” Oliver said. “One way or the other, you have a whole lot of stuff overlapping at once — what’s the effect of the pandemic, the economic dislocations, the general level of fear and anxiety?”

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Current Madison Police Department data shows the number of shootings this year has decreased since 2020 but is still 14% higher than in 2019, Assistant Chief Brian Austin said.

Some of the incidents, such as the drive-by shooting of a 17-year-old school student on Lathrop Street, have occurred near the UW campus, according to an MPD incident report.

“Regarding our shots fired [in Madison], it’s more people-based, meaning you’ve got ongoing disputes among different groups of people, and the shots fired occur kind of when those people encounter each other,” Austin said. “They’re not necessarily tied to a particular location.”

Crimes that happen off-campus are outside the UWPD’s jurisdiction, UWPD Department Director of Communications Marc Lovicott said. The UWPD has an alert system, called Off-Campus Alerts, that anyone can opt into to receive information on crimes that the UWPD deems could affect UW students.

The UWPD only issues off-campus alerts for events that happen in the Langdon and State Street area because it’s the densest area of off-student housing, Lovicott said. The UWPD calls the MPD for each incident to evaluate whether it qualifies as an “ongoing threat to the UW community,” meaning if the MPD resolves the incident before UWPD, then it doesn’t become an off-campus alert, Lovicott said.

For these reasons, some shootings near the UW campus haven’t triggered off-campus alerts, Lovicott said. 

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The UWPD works closely with the MPD to monitor crimes occurring near the UW campus, Lovicott said. The MPD works with many partners to prevent violence, Austin said.

“The issue of violent crime is … very serious and it’s also really complex.” Austin said. “And I think that it gets to the point that it’s not a problem that the police can solve by ourselves. And it’s something that has to be kind of a community wide effort.”

One such group is the Focused Interruption, a non-profit organization that receives city funding to intervene and stop shootings and prevent retaliatory action. Founded in 2016, Focused Interruption has provided counseling and support to over 300 victims and perpetrators of gun violence, according to their website.

The MPD also works with Public Health Madison and Dane County which is currently treating violence with a public health approach, Austin said. When asked on how the MPD was working to improve racial equity, Austin said the MPD is “very cognizant” of the issue and has been proactive in reducing bias in policing.

“Frankly, we hire people [who] we believe are our ethical guardians of this community and treat people fairly, no matter who they are,” Austin said. “A lot of these issues regarding equity span well beyond the criminal justice system … We are happy to partner with whoever wants to partner with us. Some of those issues certainly can’t be solved by by the police department.”

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In a Wisconsin Law Review article, Freedom Inc. Co-Executive Director M. Adams said the police serve as “occupying forces” in Black communities. In order to stop high arrest rates, police brutality and police killings of Black people, Black communities must initiate democratic control over the police in their communities, Adams said.

One way this could be accomplished would be creating civilian boards that have complete authority over the priorities, policies, and practices of the police, Adams said.

Recently, Freedom Inc. called for defunding the MPD after the arrest of Katoine Richardson. At the time of Richardson’s arrest, one MPD officer shot another MPD officer, but many media outlets wrongly attributed the MPD officer’s shooting to Richardson.

Freedom Inc. works to end violence against women, gender non-conforming, transgender folks and children within communities of color by addressing the root causes of violence, poverty, racism and discrimination, according to their website.

“The police stopping, brutalizing, and kidnapping Katoine in no way served public safety,” Freedom Inc. said in a press release. “Their incompetence endangered the life of someone they were supposedly sworn to protect, as well as the lives of those on State Street, one of the busiest areas in Madison. This reckless, racist behavior again demonstrates why we do not need police in our communities when all they do is criminalize young Black youth, especially those who are low-to-no income, femme, trans and queer.”