Janesville police analyze shootings, have a plan
JANESVILLE—When gunfire wounded two people in Beloit over the weekend, Janesville police were on the case. They had one question for their Beloit counterparts: Are there any connections to people living in Janesville?
It's one of the steps Janesville has taken in recent years in hopes of keeping gun violence from spreading here.
Despite best efforts, however, Janesville has seen six gunfire incidents over the past nine months. The toll: one dead, two wounded, seven facing charges and one convicted.
Police spent recent weeks collecting facts about each case in an effort to find out whether they have anything in common, and if the facts can help them prevent future gun crimes.
They found commonalities, and they have a plan of action.
One major commonality: The incidents all involved arguments or disputes, police said.
At the same time, police believe the suspects all are immersed in a culture in which disputes quickly escalate to violence.
“In some cases, that's all they know. That's all they've seen most of their lives,” said Lt. Terry Sheridan, who did much of the fact-collecting and analysis.
Violence as a way to resolve disputes ties into gang culture, police said. While none of the suspects is known to be a gang member, all have been known to associate with gang members, police said.
Police believe the gunfire often comes after a previous disagreement or argument, so Police Chief Dave Moore is asking patrol officers to dig more deeply when they respond to a call for a dispute.
Often, the dispute will be done, and participants have left, by the time police arrive, but officers now ask more questions, find out who, what, when and why, and offer their assistance in resolving disputes, Moore said.
The Street Crimes Unit will monitor these cases and instruct patrol officers on what to look for, said Sgt. Chad Pearson, who leads the SCU.
The unit also will keep doing something it has done for about 10 years: contacting gang members when there's no crime being investigated.
Officers will knock on doors and tell them they know about their activities, Pearson said. Then they will suggest the person could become involved in a dispute, and they will ask what police can do to keep them safe.
That discussion often develops mutual respect, Pearson said.
The tactic has worked. After some of the recent shootings, people have come forward with information, but they have asked to talk to the officer who had contacted them previously. That's different than what often happens in big cities, Sheridan said.
A new wrinkle to this process: Officers now will also contact people who are suspected of being involved in violence, Moore said.
Officers also have recently begun working with younger at-risk residents, helping them get into sports in cases where their parents don't understand how to fill out the paperwork and/or don't have the resources to transport their kids to and from practices, Pearson said.
Police noted other commonalities among most of the incidents: Many participants had histories of drug use, assaultive behavior, experience with probation, unemployment and involvement with weapons.
Also, most suspects were from out of town, and all the suspects and victims knew each other.
Police said even though they were from out of town, they all had ties here, such as a girlfriend or other associate living in Janesville.
The Janesville residents often have moved here to get away from big-city problems, police said.
Known gang members or former members have told Janesville officers that they moved here because it's safe—no gunfire, no one robbing them, Moore said, noting the “unintended consequence” of being a relatively quiet, safe city.
Other initiatives based on the analysis:
-- Police will coordinate with the state Department of Corrections probation officers, so they know when a person on probation moves into town, and they might join the probation officers when they visit their clients—again, to establish relationships and to let the clients know that police know who they are.
-- Ongoing patrols that focus on areas where trouble has cropped up. These are all over the city, police said. These patrols will include the door-knocking approach as well as conversations between officers and people using the parks, which have developed into an ongoing joke in which kids and young men challenge the officers to basketball games.
-- Continued focus on known drug houses—again, knocking on doors (when there's not enough information for a search warrant) and telling residents police know what's going on. Sometimes, residents will ask for help with addiction, Pearson said.
-- Police have reviewed all the residences of suspects and others tied to the shootings, 19 of them. They found that four of those have run afoul of the city's chronic-nuisance property ordinance.
Two of those properties are already involved in an abatement process, in which property owners are working to address violations.
Two others have been sent letters, inviting them to a meeting with police to create a plan to address the situation, police said.
Moore noted these shootings would not garner much notice in some other cities, but they stand out in normally peaceful Janesville.
He also repeatedly stressed: “No one is getting away with anything. In every one of these cases, there was an arrest or a warrant issued.”
That's the department's primary responsibility, Moore noted: to keep the community and the victims safe.
Pearson said officers have heard from people involved in crime that the word is out that they shouldn't bring guns or drugs to Janesville because police “won't leave you alone.”
Others come to Janesville for the peace and safety. They are done with the violence they see elsewhere and don't feel the need to carry guns for protection, Pearson said; they have made homes for themselves here.
One thing police here can't do much about is the national problem with people carrying guns and gun violence. Sometimes, that problem is reflected here, Moore said.