Violent crime is down and arrests are on the rise, according to Madison Police Chief Shon Barnes, who shared statistics on crime in the city during his State of Public Safety address last Friday.
According to the city’s top cop, homicides, home break-ins, and robberies dropped in 2022 when compared with the year before.
Homicides dropped from ten homicides in 2021 to six in 2022. That’s lower than in 2020, when there were ten homicides in Madison, but still higher than in 2019, when there were four homicides in the city.
“One loss of life is one too many. The only acceptable number of homicides in our community, or in any other community, is zero,” said Barnes.
Meanwhile, the number of reported shots fired dropped by 39 percent. Barnes says that Madison police officers took more than 360 illegal guns safely off the street – 100 more recovered guns than the year before.
“The sound of gunfire directly contributes to our fear of crime,” he said. “Every chief in every city in America will tell you that fear of crime is far more important than any actual number or statistic.”
Other statistics mentioned by the Chief: Home break-ins dropped by 33 percent. Forcible rape cases dropped by nearly 40%. And home robberies dropped by 14%. Non-residential burglaries spiked, though, by 43 percent, which Barnes says the MPD is working to address.
The number of people arrested also rose.
But, arrests reveal a stark racial disparity, at least in the first three quarters of 2022 for which data is available. From January to September of 2022, Black individuals were arrested at almost the same rate (46.5%) as their white counterparts (48.8%), even though Black individuals measure just seven percent of Madison’s population while white individuals measure about 72 percent of the city, according to the latest US Census numbers.
Barnes, who joined the Madison Police Department as Chief two years, says that crime committed by youth – particularly car thefts – became apparent to him as a problem early on.
“I myself spent some time through an invitation with the Madison School Board, went to [the Juvenile Detention Center], and I spoke with young people who were in there for stealing cars. I spoke with one young man who admitted to me stealing more than one hundred cars. It was at that point that I didn’t need any other data to prove that we wanted to make stolen cars one of our strategic priorities for our Summer Strategic Plan.”
Barnes highlighted the MPD’s use of restorative justice, through a program administered by the YWCA, to divert youth from the criminal system and avoid the school-to-prison pipeline. This program gives those issued a municipal ticket the option to enroll in this program instead of the alternative, which would be court. According to Barnes, 33 youth opted into the diversionary program, out of 48 youth referred to the program by MPD.
Barnes also highlighted community interruption programs such as Madison Area Addiction Recovery Initiative, or MAARI, which began in 2020 as a way to deter people struggling with addiction away from the criminal system. Instead, the program offers drug treatment as an alternative to facing jail time for people picked up on low-level, victimless offenses.
In a statement following the Chief’s address, Mayor Rhodes-Conway pointed to Chief Barnes’ “determined and strategic approach to reduce the gun violence that flared during the pandemic.” She highlighted the Department’s new Director of Data Reform and Innovation, who started work last fall.
Last week’s address comes as other policing changes are on Madison’s horizon. Madison has finally hired a long-awaited Independent Monitor, Robert Copley, who was hired last fall. The Independent Monitor along with the Madison Civilian Oversight Board were two major changes recommended by a consultant and a review committee to increase oversight over the MPD.
When asked about his relationship with the Independent Monitor, Barnes told WORT that they’ve met just once and have yet to establish a working relationship, saying he’s trying to “stay out of the way” while the Office of the Independent Monitor hires staff and builds steam.
When asked about a current proposal to disband the Public Safety Review Committee, Barnes offered no opinion, but did point to a need for increased clarity over what the city’s various police oversight boards, committees, and offices are responsible for handling.
“If I have a problem, and I don’t want to go to the police department, and I look on the website, and I see we have the Public Safety Review Committee, we have a Civilian Oversight Board, we have an Independent Monitor… I could get frustrated and say ‘Well you know what? I’m not sure’ and then not talk to anyone. And that doesn’t serve us, especially if someone has a concern. So what I am in support of is a unity of command, and understanding who’s responsible for what.”
Barnes added that one change he made last year was moving the links to make a complaint or a compliment on the MPD website to the front page.
Meanwhile, a long-debated pilot study to test the use of police body cameras will likely surface later this year, reports the Wisconsin State Journal.