While shots fired incidents decrease, Madison police say gun violence still major issue

MADISON, Wis. – Statistics show shots fired incidents have decreased in recent years, but Madison police say the fight against gun violence in the city is far from over.

The department began keeping track of shots fired incidents in 2017 under former Chief Mike Koval when it became apparent they were increasing dramatically, according to public information officer Joel DeSpain.

In 2017, the department recorded 220 incidents and 51 related injuries. That decreased to 186 incidents and 47 injuries in 2018, and 144 incidents and 34 injuries in 2019. A single incident may include multiple bullets. In 2019, police recovered 473 shell casings, down from 534 in 2018.

DeSpain said that suggests a number of factors may be having an impact, including close work with neighboring jurisdictions and the department’s special units such as the Violent Crimes Unit started in 2017. He also said Project Safe Neighborhoods, a nationwide initiative, means more people facing gun crimes go through federal courts rather than circuit.

“It’s good to see the number going down. It’s certainly hopeful,” DeSpain said. “Still, we know there are way too many guns in this community in the hands of law breakers, and these are people who are firing bullets in places where people are sleeping, shopping, driving to work.”

He points to a memorable incident in 2019 when a stray bullet missed a sleeping child, hitting her stuffed shark instead.

“We only need to look at that one image to realize how lucky we are as a community we didn’t lose a little girl that night,” DeSpain said.

It’s close calls like that Anthony Cooper is working to prevent.

“We’re tired of going to funerals,” Cooper said.

At crime scenes, you have your usual first responders. You might also find people like Anthony Cooper.

He’s the CEO of the Focused Interruption Coalition, formed about three years ago. It’s made up of peer supporters offering crisis response to community members after traumatic violence, may it be talking with them or connecting them with resources like job opportunities.

“When called out to the scene, our hearts are on our sleeves. This is a very small community that could be your brother, your sister, your aunt, your uncle, your son, your daughter,” Cooper said. “This is something, it’s not necessarily new, but it’s new to the city, government, for them to really to see that people with lived experience are valuable to be able to help people in the community.”

Serving time in jail himself as a self-proclaimed “knucklehead” in his youth, Cooper wants everyone in the community to know help is available.

“I knew, because I was once part of the problem, I also had to be part of the solution,” he said.

Cooper believes his coalition is making an impact when it comes to things like shots fired incidents decreasing, but agrees with police that there’s plenty of work still to be done. He said preventing future violence will take a village.

“As a community, we’re not always addressing the issue and making sure those issues don’t keep occurring,” he said. “What can we do as a community to make sure those things don’t continue to happen?”