Close to a year ago today, I wrote a column decrying the absurd amount of emphasis being placed on “campus safety” by students campaigning to replace Eli Judge as District 8’s next alderman. From the beginning of the campaign, it had been all too apparent that the strategy employed by most of the candidates hinged more on saying the words “campus safety” as many times as possible than demonstrating a sufficient knowledge of the position they sought to fill.
In the column, I cited crime statistics from a then recently released Campus Safety Guide to show the miniscule risk violent crime posed to students on campus, in a general attempt to push back against the irrational emphasis being placed on crime in the campaign.
Ultimately, Bryon Eagon won the race in a landslide, largely because he ran an impressive campaign and had the backing of the local political establishment, not because he said “campus safety” more than anyone else. Though, I do find it to be hardly a coincidence that the candidate with the longest safety plan ended up winning the election.
At any rate, another year has passed and the campus community has witnessed the release of another Campus Safety Guide, this time showing if you are anywhere in the vicinity of a building associated with the University, the chance you will be a victim of a violent crime decreased from, at the most, .06 percent in 2007, to .000175 percent in 2008.
We also saw the release of a report in November by the Madison Police Department which showed, in the words of Mayor Dave Cieslewicz via his blog: “Whether you look at the most recent trends, the long-term trend or comparisons to other cities our size, crime is lower and declining in Madison.” In fact, as Cieslewicz also pointed out, both violent and property crime declined by around 10 percent in the last year in Madison, continuing a similar trend from the year before.
These, like any crime statistics, may be open to underreporting. And the sexual assaults and aggravated assaults which did occur astonishingly rarely were nonetheless despicable and impermissible. But the point remains the same. We live in one of the safest places, in one of the safest cities in America.
This uncontroversial conclusion makes the initial point even more salient today. Again, it isn’t that campus safety isn’t an issue worth talking about in local student elections; it is. It’s just that it isn’t the only issue worth talking about. That is, it is an issue which belongs on a short list, but a short list which includes other equally important issues.
Eagon’s acknowledgement of this, and his successful focus on other important issues in his first year in office, has been impressive. Rather than beating the eternal drum of “safety,” he has engaged a greater swath of students in city politics, increased the visibility of the student seat on the city council he occupies and won one of the most important political victories for UW students — student representation on the Alcohol License Review Committee. This is not to say he hasn’t expended time, thought or energy on campus safety, I’m sure he has. It is just to say he has appeared to do so with the right amount of perspective.
In the most recent post on his blog, Eagon recounted his “issue priorities” as alder for the coming year. During the campaign last spring, the issue of campus safety practically had its own section on his website. Now, “Campus and Downtown Safety” is sandwiched between “Tenant-landlord issues,” “The Downtown Plan” and “The Edgewater” on his blog. In other words, it is on a short list among equals.
For this, Eagon deserves to be commended, even if it means he is acting slightly differently in office than he promised to in the campaign.
However, we cannot always expect to have such a capable alder, and in one short year a similar campaign will likely be waged to fill Eagon’s position. Once again, certain well-connected and ambitious students will decide they want a shot at Eagon’s current spot, and the race most likely will not be to the political center, as it so often is in national politics, but to the words, “campus safety.”
To those who will observe, participate, and comment on the campaign, I have one plea: perspective, my friends, perspective.
Alec Slocum ([email protected]) is a senior majoring in philosophy and legal studies.