August 14, 2007
Safety in our neighborhoods, safety in our schools
I’ve seen drug deals on the bike path, my street outside the library, heard of prostitution, I’ve been followed home in the middle of the day by a 13-year-old armed rapist, and now I’m the one living behind bars in my home—I have bars on my back doors and windows. I was wondering if it would be possible to have police foot patrol or on horseback—or whatever—on the bike paths as a possible solution. The first thing I’ve noticed in the past when I’m walking to work or to the library or in the neighborhood are people loitering before I see drug activity or when I noticed the young—the 13-year-old boy, and I do think that that is definitely a precedent that comes before crimes. It’s very unnerving to be alone in a parking lot and to see a young—a large young man kind of loitering along and then he looks around to see if there’s anybody else around, you know and you know what might come next is a possible crime. It seems like children are the ones terrorizing the neighborhoods—often the ones committing the robberies and the burglaries and the mayhem are young teenage boys. All I really wanted to do when I bought my house three years ago was to be able to walk to work—it’s only half a mile—every day, and I still do that during daylight hours. I would also like a way to be warned if the police were to notice violent gang initiations on an increase in Madison. I think it would be helpful for the public to be notified if something like that does start to occur. I do appreciate the police staff.
On Cimarron Trail this summer there have been two major fights in my own back yard in which police had to spend several hours breaking them up. The last fight, my neighbor and I were threatened to be sued because we told people to quit trespassing due to their involvement in the fight. The next day there was gang graffiti on my sidewalk. I’m a teacher at Memorial High School, and so my request to Mayor Cieslewicz is please increase the police patrols on the West side. It not only affects the neighborhood, it affects every teacher’s job in Madison, because the issues going on in the neighborhood spill over into the schools, and they’re a big cause of what’s going on at the schools and especially Memorial High School. [emphasis added.] I also want to thank all the police officers I’ve met and especially Officer Shannon Blackmore, who’s not here but who has been a wonderful resource to Memorial High School staff.
Please listen to us. Please believe us.
These are excerpts from comments of speakers at last week’s “neighborhood listening session” on crime in the west side’s District 20 (video of the meeting is now available on Madison City Channel 12’s web site). Several hundred people attended the meeting (estimates of attendance by the media range from 600 to 750), and only a fraction of those who wanted to speak could be accommodated within the meeting’s 90-minute time limit. Mayor Dave Cieslewicz, Madison Police Chief Noble Wray, and Alders Thuy Pham-Remmele (who organized the meeting), Jed Sanborn and Zach Brandon were there to listen.
At the meeting, Chief Wray noted that he appreciated the neighborhood feedback, and stated: “We’re going to have to develop a short- and a long-term plan. A number of you mentioned the need—and I would totally agree with you—the need for additional police resources. [Crowd applause.] But even if the mayor and the council approved tomorrow additional police resources, we would not see those police officers on the street until 2009.” Chief Wray will be announcing the police department’s plans for addressing crime in these neighborhoods at a future meeting (now scheduled for September 5*).
We all should be grateful to the people of District 20 and their alder for coming together and shining a light on crime in the neighborhoods. It was clear from the speakers’ remarks that these problems aren’t new. These problems have been compounded by being disregarded and downplayed as “anecdotal” or “isolated” incidents (although we now have an acknowledgment that the police department has been, in its own words, “behind the curve” in making information on crime available to the public). It’s good news that the city has started working on a plan for tackling crime on the West side. It’s not so good news that the city didn’t start working on this problem until the neighborhoods were in a uproar. The ship’s captain shouldn’t wait for the passengers to sound the alarm before navigating away from the iceberg.
Chief Wray has recently acknowledged publicly that there is a gang problem in Madison schools, and that it is growing. But crime-related issues are hardly front and center in the priorities of our school board for the upcoming school year; the school board does not have a dedicated safety committee; the Board of Education-Common Council liaison committee (which meets on an “as needed” basis) hasn’t met since March (no minutes for that meeting have been posted yet; the latest committee minutes available are those for the meeting held in February); and data on school-based crime continues to be incomplete and virtually inaccessible. We’ve lost essential lead time due to the delay in acknowledging the crime problem in our neighborhoods, which now limits the city’s options for taking action to address the problem. I hope that we are not heading toward the same mistake with our schools.
*Updated (9/5/07): The followup meeting has now been rescheduled for Thursday, September 13, 2007, at 6:30 pm at St. Maria Goretti school.