Madison Crime Data Vs. Political Perceptions As We Roll To Spring Balloting

As we approach the Spring Election in April many issues are bandied about in an attempt to link a candidate with voters.  In the Madison race for mayor and a wide array of aldermanic contests crime and policing are often topics being presented for answers from those on the ballot. While those who commit illegal actions make headlines the fact is the fear of crime outpaces the actual data of what is happening in our communities.

When it comes to the top-of-the-fold crimes that get attention the statistics from Madison are heading in the right direction.  The city saw six homicides in 2022, 40% fewer than the previous year; shots fired calls were also down 39%.  It goes without saying there has been a raft of car thefts and wayward teenagers who seem hellbent on making for a mugshot rather than an honor roll lineup. Even then the data proves stolen vehicle cases were down 12% and home and vehicle break-ins fell 33%.  But when it comes to the city as a whole it is not improper to say that for the general population, the crime rate should not be the first or second concern that roils voters at the polls.

We recall the stem-winding rhetoric that led up to the midterm election in 2022 with Fox News decrying violence up and down their broadcast day.  But then a funny thing happened once the balloting ended.

With the vote over, however, the rightwing news channel appeared to decide things weren’t that bad after all, and decreased its coverage of violent crime by 50% compared with the pre-election average.

I faulted the Republican rhetoric at the time on my CP Facebook page as far more about election ranting than most of the nation experienced.  I noted in November 2022 that what occurred starting in 1829 still resonated.  President Andrew Jackson was going to root out the corruption and rot that had been placed into the governmental offices by sacking those appointed by former President J. Q. Adams.  But historians have discovered that in the Tennessean’s first term, he removed only 1 in 11 officeholders.  Clearly, with that evidence, the use of hyper-based rhetoric for political aims far exceeded any actual abuse in departments of the federal government. Repeat and rinse.

While I had my lawn sign firmly planted for Gloria Reyes prior to the Madison Professional Police Officers Association making their endorsement and understanding that some locales in Madison have economic and social issues that are meshed with crime statistics it bears repeating that we need to stay true to the data. Our city always has room for improvement, like putting body cams on every officer and making sure there is a resource officer in every high school. We know that any criminal act is absolutely out of bounds.  But let us not drift away from another fact. We have a city we can be proud of and no candidate for any office should try to paint it otherwise.

Madison City Council Correct Not To Ban Tear Gas

I was very much opposed to Madison Alderperson Juliana Bennett’s proposal to enact a ban on the Madison Police Department along with mutual aid agencies from using tear gas, mace, all chemical irritants, and impact projectiles for use in crowd/riot control within the city. It was a reckless and short-sighted proposal that was constructed with the aim to make for a progressive signature for an alder rather than concern about the greater needs of the city and the residents who reside here.

By the time of the city council meeting Tuesday night, a concerted effort was made to bridge a compromise so that law enforcement can still use those measures should they be required but mandates the city’s yet-to-be-hired first independent police monitor to do an after-action review of any use of tear gas. Police Chief Shon Barnes accepted the compromise and the matter passed the council 14-4.

Since I find the independent police monitor to be as needed as a third nipple I much agreed with the rationale of those who voted no on the after-action review. The Wisconsin State Journal reported “Alds. Barbara Harrington-McKinney, Charles Myadze, Sheri Carter and Tag Evers voted no. Those opposed said the police have been responsible in investigating tear gas use and that the reporting requirement was micromanaging or redundant because the independent monitor already has the capacity to do investigations.”

While police work to make sure protesters are safe when pressing their message, we should also want and expect law enforcement to be most determined to quell and stop the smashing of windows, the tearing down of statuary at the statehouse (!) and to stem the undermining of basic law and order. As such, I fully support the police using tactics that will meet the mission as needed. I wrote with much hope on August 28th on this blog that citizens should reach out and contact alders to demand a vote against the Bennett proposal. I know many people across this city did that very thing.

I am glad that pragmatism (for the most part) was the path chosen by the council on this matter. After all, the vast majority of those paying the taxes in our city have faith in the ones wearing blue and hired to do their professional jobs to keep us all safe.

Madison Police Must Have Right To Use Chemical Tactics To Stem Riots, City Council May Vote To Curb Their Use

Once again, the tail wishes to wag the dog in Madison. The latest example is a short-sighted and dangerous attempt by the City Council to limit the range of tools Madison Police have available to them in times of crisis and danger to the public.

Longtime readers know I view a legitimate protest march being vastly different from a riot.  In 2020, when national concern was registered about the death of George Floyd many local people marched and demonstrated peacefully. Madison Police used the resources of their department to make sure marches were safe by closing streets and routing traffic away from the crowds. Local police are not averse to assisting the right to free speech in the public square, in fact, they help enhance it.

But as the daylight would give way to darkness, however, the marches were taken over by a violent element that was not driven by any consideration for policy changes through a due process of governing. There was no higher calling about social justice or honoring Floyd.  Instead, the looting and mindless ransacking of businesses on State Street and around the State Capitol continued night after night.  What was as disturbing to me as the destruction itself was the attempt by some social ‘advocates’ who tried to morph the two—trying to rationalize the wanton criminal behavior as some extension of anger about policing in general.  The absurdity of such a dialogue was mind-numbing.

Trying to find kinship between a protest march and a full-blown riot is like trying to align a tomato with a suspension bridge.  It simply can not be done.  While police work to make sure protesters are safe when pressing their message, we should also want law enforcement to be most determined to quell and stop the smashing of windows, the tearing down of statuary at the statehouse (!) and to stem the undermining of basic law and order.

As such, I fully support the police using tactics that will meet the mission as needed. It then comes as no surprise that I am very much opposed to 8th District Alderperson Juliana Bennett’s proposal to enact a ban on MPD and all other mutual aid agencies using tear gas, mace, all chemical irritants, and impact projectiles for use in crowd/riot control.  Living on the Madison Isthmus I can attest to the great alarm homeowners and fellow residents felt as the live news reports showed the destruction occurring while we stood on our balcony and looked out towards the statehouse dome wondering what morning light would show for damage. As we know the damage was widespread and extremely costly.

The reason we should care about the allowance for such chemical tactics to stop a riot was perhaps best summed up by Bonnie Roe a local concerned citizen. “What if tear gas could not have been used by MPD to help an MFD firetruck get through an unruly crowd, during a night of civil unrest in August of 2020, to put out a fire before many gallons of gasoline were ignited, causing a massive explosion and endangering many lives?”

This resolution from Bennett was referred to Madison’s Public Safety Review Committee where on August 10th it passed on a 4-1 vote. All three of the Alders on this committee favored the ban, so there is much concern from those who favor law and order about the passage of this matter. The next city council meeting on September 20th will deal with this resolution where an expected vote will be held. The matter only requires a simple majority (11 out of 20) votes to pass.

The implications of its passage should not be lost on Madison residents.  That was spelled out by James L. Palmer, II, Executive Director of the Wisconsin Professional Police Association. He stated, “Drastically impairing MPD’s ability to resort to de-escalation tools – especially when it has done so on a very limited basis – would be a regressive policy change that would only serve to compromise the safety of the community and the police. Furthermore, it would likely undermine the city’s ability to rely upon the mutual aid of its neighbors who are unlikely to risk these serious public safety implications

I would ask, for the sake of sanity and sound policing for the benefit of the vast majority of law-abiding in our city that you contact your alder and demand a NO vote on the resolution to undermine Madison Police.

So why do I care about this issue?  I wish to conclude this post with a personal explanation.  As a boy growing up in Waushara County, there was one thing that could be counted on each summer with certainty.  There would be at least one major thunderstorm that would be so dramatic as to produce straight-line winds that would snap large trees and rip a roof off a barn or old shed and carry it into a nearby field.  Following the weather reports on the radio and the tracking of clouds at home, we could figure out where some storm damage might be viewed.   Dad was a 40-year elected member of the Hancock Town Board and so needed to know what road cleanup was required after a storm.

I am much aware of those drives in the country as Dad assessed the storm damage. I also recall the first time I parked at a ramp following the 2020 State Street rioting. There had been scores of newspaper photos and television coverage, but seeing for myself the enormity of the damage to every single store, block after block, was hard to fathom. This past week I caved to one of my weaknesses—gyro sandwiches—and after devouring one walked State to again pass empty storefront after empty storefront.  Yes, some are the result of a pandemic.  Too many, however, are the result of a riot.  A needless series of violent and outlandish actions. Our city must have the tools at our disposal to stem riots in the future.

I again urge my readers to contact your alder and demand a NO vote on the resolution to disallow the use of tear gas, mace, all chemical irritants, and impact projectiles for use in crowd/riot control by Madison Police. 

Madison Police Chief Shon Barnes Mixed Messages About Public’s Right To Know

Madison Police Chief Shon Barnes has placed himself into a position that no one can defend. Not conservatives, not liberals, not progressives. No one.

Usually, I find myself comfortably able to stand alongside our local police and give my support. Not this time.

Unlike past major episodes dealing with local police shootings, and actions taken (or perhaps more to the point not taken) by law enforcement to quell violent downtown rioting, there is no respectable ground for the police chief to stand on regarding Reginald Patterson. Or the way Matt Kenny was treated in 2021.

The Wisconsin State Journal reported that Barnes sent an internal message to officers that he would seek to fire anyone found to have leaked to the local media information about the resignation of a lieutenant who had been videotaped engaging in sexual activity with a woman in his squad car in a store parking lot.

But the desire by Barnes in promoting a self-serving message about another officer was even elevated to the office of the department’s spokesperson.

Matt Kenny, a police officer who shot and killed a 19-year-old who was highly combative and under the influence, was approached in 2021 by Barnes about voluntarily retiring.

Police Department spokesperson Stephanie Fryer said, “Since joining the Madison Police Department, the chief has heard from grieving family members and concerned citizens about the employment of Officer Kenny.”

There is a lot to unpack in those two stories.

First, there is a right of citizens to know what their public servants do while being paid for with tax dollars. That is not a new concept. When a 15-year employee of the department, no less, the West Police District’s head of the patrol, is caught in a sex act in a police car in broad daylight it does merit public scrutiny. Such lack of regard for sound judgment from someone who works for a department that does concern itself with public relations deserves public attention. But transparency was not the route our police chief chose to follow.

Police had refused to provide Patterson’s name until announcing his resignation, but the State Journal reported it on Oct. 14 after one current and one former department employee confirmed his identity. Six days later, in response to public records request by the State Journal, the department identified Patterson as the only department employee then on paid leave.

The fact is journalists, who report on the work of government and public officials, do rely on souces and tips so to fulfill their responsibility in a democracy. Such input from a wide array of sources, as proven in this case, ensures the public has a better understanding of what is happening with the departments and agencies they fund. As such, it was not proper to then have Barnes make the threat of firing anyone about a matter that did merit public notice.

From a public relations perspective, it appears that the desire to keep tight reins on information was more an issue for the police chief than the preposterous action taken by an officer on duty.

Regarding Officer Kenny, meanwhile, there was a true effort made to publicize an attempt to remove him from his job. For the record, I am glad that the story was reported. It, too, needs to be known by the public, as it shines a light on Chief Barnes. Sadly, his action in this matter demonstrates how he too plays to the anti-police sentiments held by some of the louder voices in this city.

Following the Tony Robinson shooting those who opposed the police attempted to frame our force as akin to other departments nationwide which have landed in the headlines.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.  We might recall that then Madison Police Chief Mike Koval, in a number of national interviews, proved his communications skills while outlining why Madison is a department that is head and shoulders above others.  Statistics also make the case why Madison police can not be summed up in pointless rhetoric from the anti-police crowd.

Matt Kenney was not found to be in any way negligent in the performance of his duties as a law enforcement officer.

So to have Barnes then seek the retirement of Kenny, an officer who acted professionally in the line of duty, is more than mystifying. It is infuriating. For Barnes to take that action is a back-handed slap to the entire police force.

It is difficult to have professionals akin to former Police Chief Koval continually serve in our city. But it sure would be nice if that were possible. When they are absent it is most noticeable.

And so it goes.

Madison Police Officer(s) Must Be Placed Inside East High School

Enough is enough.

Newscasts on Monday led with what once again was pure chaos and violence at Madison East High School. Dozens of students, at a time when data shows too many of them are failing in their education, tossed off the books and took to street brawling. With temperatures in the 60s, and apparently nothing more to learn on the first day of a school week, fistfights and pure mayhem broke out. Meanwhile, taxpayers in the city were treated to plenty of coverage concerning how their money is being spent.

Not on the use of textbooks, mind you. But rather on needed police activity so to battle violent teenagers at school.

If that opening sounds like this blogger is a mite upset with what is becoming the norm at East then score yourself competent in reading comprehension.

Channel 3000 reported in total, more than 15 officers responded. Barnes said an officer was hit in the face by a student during the incident; that student was cited for assault on an officer. Another student was cited for having an “edged weapon,” but police said they weren’t sure if it was scissors, a knife or some other object.

An officer was struck in the face trying to break up this fight. The officer attempted to detain this student, but family members and other students got in the way. Officers estimate around 250 students surrounded this fight with some of the students actively trying to get involved.

Many in this city, myself included, strongly urged the Madison School Board to not fall for the protest crowd’s mantra calling for the expelling of educational resource officers– city police–from our four public high schools.  I called such a proposal pure bull-crap. (This is a family-friendly blog, after all.) The board shunned logic and common sense and ousted the EROs–perhaps the only adult disciplinarian some students have in their lives.

If you wish to know what happens when the local school board kneels to the noisy contingents from the International Socialist Organization, Progressive Dane, and the Freedom Inc. Youth Brigade please refer to what (without doubt) will be front-page coverage in Tuesday’s Wisconsin State Journal.

The city was told that if we had police officers in the schools it would feed the “school-to-prison pipeline”.  Good Lord! It sure looks like some teenagers are more than able to take that path all by themselves, and are doing it most willingly. Perhaps the ones who shouted at the school board meetings about the police need to become mentors to troubled youth. There is a whole contingent at East High who could now be enrolled in such programming. That list is growing weekly.

It must not be forgotten that the community-minded EROs did have a large degree of popularity from many families in Madison. What proved difficult was to find the bandwidth to respond when it came to engaging with those who would shut down a street to make a point. The EROs, when in the schools, broke up many large-scale cafeteria fights and disarmed students bringing loaded weapons to school.

After today, we can again see why it is important to have such men and women in our schools to keep the students and staff safe from those who wish to inflict violence on others. Threats that we know all too well come from within and outside our schools.

Knowing that in order to quell the violence police were required to use pepper spray should stun everyone who reads the local news. Those students who came to school with violence and dangerous behavior in mind placed not only many students and teachers in harm’s way. They also struck out at men and women in blue.

Knowing that there are loose screws in the city allows me to state with assuredness that calling for the restriction of using pepper spray on teenagers will be heard in upcoming street protests and common council proceedings. That topic is coming again soon, from a local pol or community organizer needing some headline exposure.

For the rest of us, however, who think schools should be places of learning and not sites of multiple police cars and cruisers with lights flashing means that the citizenry must stand up collectively and demand that police again walk the halls of our public schools.

Enough playing to the loudest shouters on the street who truly have no idea what is required to make a classroom ready for learning. They have not a clue as to what a teacher endures to get just a short period of a class period filled with learning. Folks, we have to set some serious boundaries. Enough coddling of the violent ones in the schools who have no intention of learning, and who prove with the number of police calls only a desire to act disruptively, again and again.

There are students at East who know their path upwards in life is with a solid education. They are planning a college path and then onwards to their goals. They should not, must not, have their education stunted and their ambitions thwarted in any way by a segment of others in the school, who simply put, are not ready for polite society.

And so it goes.

Madison Mayor’s Mendacity

Since 2015, when Donald Trump rode down an escalator to begin the first of his tens of thousands of lies which journalists have reported over the years, this blog has been constantly reminding readers that character matters in the Oval Office. If one can not have faith an elected official is telling the truth on a daily basis, what happens when a crisis occurs and the public needs to be informed and believe their leader is credible?

This year we have seen the pitfalls that occur when a president lies to the nation continuously and now has no believability when it comes to dealing with a pandemic. In years past I argued that President George W. Bush did a grave disservice to the nation when his administration lied about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. When the bond of trust is lost between citizen and leader there are damaging long-term consequences.

So it is with local leaders, too.

I was most dismayed and troubled to learn that Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway stepped on facts and truth concerning events surrounding a driver in a hit-and-run last summer. The fact she was alerted the man had been attacked prior to the incident and might have feared for his safety did not stop her from issuing a false and very misleading statement the next day which suggested the driver committed a hate crime.

The summer was a tense one in Madison as racial inequities made headlines and citizens rose up and made their voices heard about needed changes. But for the Mayor to steer the hit-and-run incident away from the facts and add it needlessly to the heat and passion underway was reckless and only added to the workload of law enforcement in the city.

Acting Madison Police Chief Vic Wahl told Rhodes-Conway that the driver reacted after people jumped into the bed of his truck and began “dancing on it.” The report adds that “The driver was punched in the face and that is when he drove into the crowd.”

That information did not stop the Mayor, however, from commenting in a way that ran counter to the facts.

“I fully support hate crime charges when they are warranted. My thoughts are with the victim and their family, as well as my wishes for a speedy recovery.”

Rhodes-Conway has lost the trust of the taxpayers in the city who are mindful that over-time this year for law-enforcement has been costly. So when a Mayor plays on existing anger and stokes false claims so to score some cheap points among a segment of her ever-shrinking base it does need to be called out and condemned.

Wherever this type of manipulation of the facts occurs it must be called out and highlighted. Be it Trump or the Madison Mayor the citizens deserve better.

Anisa Scott To Be Removed From Life Support: More Than A Family Should Need To Face

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There could not have been a dry eye anywhere in Madison during the late-night news Wednesday.  I have watched many a tragic story unfold over the airwaves in my lifetime, but learning that 11-year-old Anisa Scott will be taken off life support following a driveby shooting just rips my heart.  The anguish and heartache the family shared tonight with an entire city have brought us all together.   But now what happens from our shared experience of grief over a glaring example of having too many guns on our streets?

The shooting of Anisa happened in the area of East Washington and Lexington Avenues at around 11:45 A.M. Tuesday.  Police said shots were fired from one vehicle to another, and believe the girl was riding in the car of the intended target.

What happened with the shooting itself is despicable enough, and the hell the family needed to go through to even learn of such a tragedy is one thing.  To then need to make the decision of removing life support from a child is something that I can not even begin to fathom how anyone processes.  The absolute hell that these loved ones are going through along with their strength to speak to us in front of Children’s Hosptial has moved a city to tears.

But we also must be moved to action.

What this family is going through should make us mad as hell about what is happening on our streets—and now to a bright smiling young girl.  There is a killer somewhere loose on the streets tonight who thought it was within his right to aim a deadly weapon at a driver of another car and pull the trigger.  How anyone becomes so removed from morals and any sense of even the most basic connections of humanity is more than I can ponder.  How others can not report the killer to the police is unconscionable.

This sweet kid will be removed from life support at 11:11 A.M. Thursday because she was shot on the 11th, and is 11 years old, her grandmother told reporters.  I know most of us watching the news wanted to somehow reach into our television screen and hug her and somehow make it all not true.

But gun violence is deadly and all too real.  It does not happen ‘over there’ or ‘to other people’.  It happens all the time and all too close to our communities.   We must get serious about it, or there will be more grandmothers who will need to share with us what hell feels like.

To the loved ones of Anisa there are no words of comfort.  And thoughts and prayers are a piss-poor response.  If we really care for this family we will demand in voices loud enough so no can miss hearing them that we MUST have gun control measures enacted so bright smiling kids are not killed.  Some angry old man ranting about his interpretation of the Second Amendment IS NOT more important than the hope that was extinguished when Anisa was shot in the head from a gun.   

Enough is simply enough.  

Madison Mayor Rhodes-Conway Fails At Leadership: Madison Police Vote 95% “No Confidence”

The Madison Professional Police Officers Association did not need to alert us to the facts regarding Mayor Satya Rhodes Conway.  They approved a vote of no confidence in her stewardship of the city, but all one needs to do is walk down any street and strike up a conversation to best understand the deep concerns residents have about the mayor.

Her “unhealthy portrayal” of police creates an “us versus them” dichotomy, the union said in a statement, that “is particularly dangerous at a time when city agencies and entities should be working collaboratively to address an increase in burglaries, car thefts, weapons offenses (including shots being fired daily all over the city) and, sadly, attempted and completed homicides too often claiming the lives of young Madisonians.

Her tenure has been a colossal failure of leadership.   A professional, who often interacts with the powers of the city government, told me last week no matter who is in the room with the mayor, she believes she is still the smartest one.  That blunder in self-judgment accounts for much of the mess that has unfolded since she took office.

Rhodes-Conway is not well-suited for the office she holds, having amply demonstrated her profound lapses in judgment as State Street was looted and our police officers not supported.  That is, in part, why there is now an attempt to recall her from office.

The recall effort has now been offered a very credible foundation with the announcement of the police union vote.  I was hoping and waiting for a seasoned and responsible segment of the city to stand up and offer a reason that people should engage with the recall effort. 

I was not at all pleased with the partisan nature of those who first assembled the recall.  I have withheld any mention of the recall from this blog for that very reason.  Having a former Republican assembly candidate as the lead messenger was a dreadful start to what should have been a more inclusive and broad-based approach to meet the needs of the city.

And Madison is in need of real leadership now.  To get there we need more voices like that of the police union heard,  and far fewer missives from Jon Rygiewicz, who filed a petition with the city clerk to begin circulating petitions to force Rhodes-Conway into a recall election.

No one can be pleased with the lack of leadership from this mayor over the past months.  Our city can not afford to think about three more years of having ‘the smartest one in the room’.

And so it goes.