With a record-setting 10 homicides in Madison in 2017, the attention of the community, local leaders and policy makers zeroed in on violence and strategies to address its underlying issues throughout the year.
The most recent homicide occurred at the beginning of August. Mayor Paul Soglin attributes the four months without a murder since to two new initiatives, but he also said the city is still struggling with short-term solutions to violence.
“I’m very frustrated and very unhappy with the failure to implement the right program,” Soglin said in an interview with the Cap Times last week.
The Madison Police Department’s focused enforcement effort of a few dozen individuals over four weeks concluded with the arrest of about 40 individuals. Chief Mike Koval declared it a success. Soglin also gave credit to a new “rapid response” program designed to interrupt the cycle of violence.
The City Council approved $400,000 in this year’s budget to fund the first steps in a 15-point anti-violence plan from the Focused Interruption Coalition.
During the summer, the council approved spending $50,000 and finalized a contract for a short-term peer support program. That program offers support and connections to services aimed at de-escalating possible retaliation 24-hours a day, seven days per week.
The city also selected proposals from Nehemiah Community Development Corporation and Madison-area Urban Ministry to carry out long-term peer support services to those caught up in cycles of violence. Nehemiah and partners including the Focused Interruption Coalition will respond to crisis situations and the Madison-area Urban Ministry will focus on reentry services.
However, Soglin said while long term solutions will pay off in years, youth engaged in violence “need immediate attention and not through conventional means.”
“We’ve got to act now, and that means expanding our interrupting programs from after shootings to before the shootings take place,” Soglin said.
Soglin also included a public health-based approach to address violence in his 2018 budget, and put forward a “placemaking” initiative to train neighborhood leaders.
“I’m hoping that the placemaking initiative will assist us in getting communities to assert themselves,” Soglin said. "It is something the police department cannot do. They don’t live in the neighborhoods. They aren’t there 24/7. The people who live there are there 24/7.”
‘Difficult’ projects ahead
The ratio of retail and alcohol establishments, particularly on State Street, remained a concern in 2017 and raised the mayor’s ire recently. Soglin vetoed a liquor license for a Taco Bell Cantina on the 500 block of State Street that the City Council could overturn in January.
He suggested taking the issue of liquor licensing to public referendum and criticized the council for being “so out of touch” with Madison residents.
“You can say ‘no’ no matter who the applicant is, no matter what their experience is,” Soglin said. “You can simply say there are enough places selling liquor, and this City Council doesn’t have the will to do it.”
Soglin also emphasized a continued focus on adding to Madison’s housing stock and preventing escalating rents due to low vacancy rates.
“We will continue to move forward adding overall to the housing stock, but specifically for low- and moderate-income housing,” Soglin said.
Madison could also face possible effects from legislation at the Capitol that would limit municipal powers.
Republican lawmakers are sponsoring bills that would, among other things, ban Madison and other local governments from setting employment rules that differ from state law and prohibit systematic building inspections.
Soglin said the legislation is designed to undermine cities.
“There is no political, intellectual or even ideological integrity or logic to what they are doing,” Soglin said.
Soglin said overall, the city has been “diligent” in 2017 in building the tax base that is necessary to pay for city services and to meet the demands of a growing, diverse population in Madison.
“We’re moving forward with some very difficult and challenging projects,” Soglin said.