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Former City of Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz

Former Mayor Dave Cieslewicz's Blog


Crime Is Down

November 18, 2009 1:25 PM

It went almost unnoticed. The Madison Police Department reported last week that crime is down in Madison. It was good news that deserved more than the small box of numbers at the bottom of the front page of that day's morning paper. It's a real problem and a missed opportunity when the good news about crime gets so little attention.

First the numbers. Whether you look at the most recent trends, the long-term trend or comparisons to other cities our size, crime is lower and declining in Madison.

• Comparing the first three quarters of 2008 to the first three quarters of this year, violent crime is down 9% and property crime is down 10%. This is not an aberration. It continues the trend comparing all of 2008 to all of 2007, when all crimes were down 14% and violent crime was down 10%.

• Crime is way down over the last two decades. Madison was ranked the Best City in America and Best Mid-Sized City in America by Money Magazine in 1996 and 1997. For the first of these two years, there were 56 crimes per 1,000 people in Madison. For the second year, there were 54 crimes per 1,000 people. But, there were less than 47 per 1,000 in 2008. So crime is lower today than it was when we were rated the Best City in America.

• We are a low-crime city compared to our peers. When we compare our crime rates to those of all U.S. cities with a population of 100,000 to 250,000, we find that our rates are consistently 25% lower than the average.

So, if the news on crime is so good, why don't most people know it, and why aren't we shouting it from the rooftops? I think there are at least three reasons.

First, crime is not down everywhere. The statistics I quoted above are citywide, and crime is down in most places in Madison. But it's up in some spots, and if you live there or if you've been a victim of a recent crime or know someone who has been, then you have a different experience and perspective.

Second, as noted above, the media tends to under-report the good news about crime while it sometimes sensationalizes bad crime stories. I've had more than one reporter or media executive lament to me that they'd rather not over-cover crime as they do but that internet story hits and long-term research show that people want to read negative crime stories. They're not in business to lose money (the current environment not withstanding), so they give their customers what they want.

Third, too many of my fellow politicians would rather pander to perceptions then deal with the complexities of crime as it really exists in our community. I know as I write this that I will probably get criticized by those who will intentionally misconstrue this blog as evidence that I don't care about the real problems of crime. Believe me, I do care. That's why I've added more cops than any mayor in recent memory, why in some of the tightest budgets ever I've found money to expand neighborhood centers and programs for at-risk youth, and why even in this most recent budget I found a way to expand the Crime Prevention and Gang Unit three-fold.

I know that it would be far better politics for me to be silent about this good news or to even fan the flames of negativity when it comes to crime. I won't do that because it is not in the long-term best interests of our community to continue to ignore one of our greatest assets and selling points as a city: we are among the safest places in America.

So, you have my word that I will continue to work to further reduce crime, especially in those neighborhoods where the news is not as good as it is citywide. But, at the same time, let's not be afraid to tell the good story we have. It is one of the things that will help Madison launch out of this recession - a huge competitive advantage in an increasingly competitive world.



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