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Madison mayor, police tout reduction in arrests and police contacts

August 10, 2018

Pushing back against local critics of police and of stationing officers in schools, Mayor Paul Soglin is touting a reduction in arrests and police contacts with citizens, including people of color.

Total arrests in Madison dropped from 13,537 in 2011, when Soglin last entered office, to 8,310 in 2017, according to data released during a Wednesday press conference at the City-County Building. Contacts between police and citizens dropped from 124,854 to 91,469.

Those are 39 percent and 27 percent reductions, respectively, and Soglin, who is running for governor, attributed them to a greater focus on catching the most dangerous offenders, moving young, low-level offenders toward restorative justice programs and away from the criminal justice system, and providing help instead of punishment to offenders who have mental health or substance abuse problems.

“It’s really rather profound,” Soglin said, and “it could not take place without leadership at the Madison Police Department.”

Critics of police, including activist group Freedom Inc., have most recently pushed for the removal of four education resource officers (EROs) stationed at Madison’s four main high schools, and last month disrupted two meetings of an ad hoc committee created by the School Board to study the issue. Next school year is the last of a three-year contract with the city for the EROs. On Wednesday, committee members discussed possible changes to the ERO program if the contract is continued.

Madison and Dane County have long seen disproportionately more black people than whites caught up in the criminal justice system, and the numbers released Wednesday don’t counter that trend.

But they do show less police involvement with blacks over the last seven years. Arrests went from 5,932 to 3,631, a 39 percent drop, and contacts from 32,102 to 29,293, a 9 percent drop.

For the last three to four years, law enforcement has had more opportunity to send low-level, young offenders to diversion programs, including the county’s Community Restorative Court (CRC); Madison YWCA restorative justice programs; and Dane County TimeBank’s Youth Court Program. They generally focus on counseling young offenders and repairing the harm they’ve caused, and require offenders to admit their crimes.

The CRC serves people ages 17 to 25 and has been expanded over the last year from a focus on the South Side to citywide, according to Madison police Capt. John Patterson.

“Restorative justice is part and parcel of the way we do business now,” Police Chief Mike Koval said.

While arrests overall were down, the total number of arrests for sexual assault, aggravated assault, homicide and robbery from 2011 to 2017 changed little, hovering around 515 a year.

It’s not clear that the decrease in arrests isn’t mostly part of a longer trend. Arrests dropped 16 percent from 2005 to 2009, under an earlier data-collection method, and 6 percent from 2010 to 2012, under a subsequent method, according to Madison Police Department annual reports.

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