Madison officials say violent crime below three-year averages, still work to do

MADISON, Wis. — Madison officials say their latest numbers show the city is getting safer, but there’s still work to be done.

In a briefing Wednesday, officials gave an update on the city’s response to crime as well as Vision Zero, the city’s initiative to reduce traffic-related fatalities and injuries. An update was also given on Madison’s CARES team, which responds to nonviolent mental health emergencies instead of the police.

“Everyone in Madison deserves to feel safe,” Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway said. “If we’re going to get serious about tackling violence, and we are serious, we need to be tough in responding to crime as it happens.”

The mayor called on state and federal legislators to implement tighter gun laws, including banning assault weapons. Rhodes-Conway attributed a rise in violent crime across the country to the accessibility of guns.

“Many of our [crime] statistics are headed in the right direction,” she said. “But let me be clear, any level of gun violence in our community is unacceptable.”

Rhodes-Conway also stressed the need to solve the root causes of violence, including mental health response, violence prevention, youth employment, and affordable housing. The mayor also said the Public Health Madison and Dane County’s violence prevention team will be expanding next year.

As part of its summer strategic plan, Madison police focused on gun crime, shots fired, auto theft, and traffic accidents, Police Chief Shon Barnes said, because those types of crimes are more likely to occur in the summer because of warmer weather.

Violent crime numbers decrease

The number of homicides in the city was down compared to the past two years and lower than the three-year average, when looking at data from June 1 to August 15 of those years. This year, there were three homicides in that time period, compared to five in 2020 and 2021. In 2019, there were no homicides in the city between June 1 and August 15.

“We’re certainly trending in the right direction,” Barnes said. “Although any loss of life in our community is a great loss to us all.”

RELATED: Madison police ‘sad and frustrated’ as gun violence leads to another young person’s death

The number of shots fired incidents was also down from compared to the last two years, and well below the three-year average. There were 41 incidents this year between June 1 and August 15, compared to 92 in 2020 and 48 in 2021. The three-year average for shots fired incidents between June 1 to August 15 is 60.

The number of people shot in Madison during that timeframe this year was also below the three-year average. Eight people were shot during that time period this year, the same amount as in 2021 over that same time.

Car thefts increase

While violent crime has largely been below three-year averages this summer, the number of car thefts in the city during the observed period saw a significant spike, jumping from 210 last year to 273.

Barnes says the rise is largely due to a manufacturing defect in certain vehicles that make them easier to steal.

“I do think we were trending in the right direction,” Barnes said. “If you were to leave out the Kias and Hyundais, you would see that we’d be well below the three-year average.”

RELATED: Madison Police say ore than half of stolen vehicle cases involve Kia, Hyundai models

Barnes said that the department is working with Kia to provide theft-prevention devices, and Hyundai is set to recall their defective vehicles later this year. He also stressed the need for the community to help report and prevent crime.

Officials credit Vision Zero program with fewer traffic injuries

Madison is working to secure federal funds for Vision Zero road improvements, traffic engineer Yang Tao said. That includes three grants that have already been given and a potential $20 million grant as part of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Safe Streets and Roads for All program, which was funded by the bipartisan infrastructure package passed by Congress.

Officials say the city is already seeing the effects of Vision Zero. Crashes are down 5 percent compared to this time last year and traffic-related fatalities and serious injuries are down 40 percent.

Some of the changes brought by the initiative have been focused on East Washington Avenue, one of the city’s busiest stretches of road. The number of crashes on East Washington Avenue is up 6 percent compared to this time last year, however, the number of serious injuries in those crashes has dropped by 33 percent, and there has yet to be a fatal crash on the busy stretch of road.

There were three traffic-related fatalities along East Washington Avenue during the first half of last year.

“We know humans are going to make mistakes,” Tao said. “But we can make a difference in the outcome of those crashes.”

Tao said that the Vision Zero changes are helping, but safety begins at an individual level.

CARES team at work

The city launched the CARES team in September of last year. The team allows for healthcare workers to respond to certain mental health crises instead of law enforcement. To date, the team has responded to over 850 calls.

RELATED: Madison adds second response team, second station for CARES team

“Each response is unique,” Madison Fire Department Assistant Chief Che Stedman said. “The important piece is to be able to refer patients to services in the community that are right for them.”

Stedman said that 40% of CARES patients have connected with stable healthcare services including inpatient and outpatient care.