Janesville crime statistics show improvement

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Frank Schultz
Sunday, February 23, 2014

JANESVILLE—As the bottom fell out of the economy in the past five years, experts expected crime to rise.

Experts were wrong.

Crime rates fell in many areas of the country, and Janesville hit a 20-year low.

Experts now believe an aging population and the highest incarceration rate in the world could be reasons for the decline.

Janesville Police Chief Dave Moore acknowledges societal trends, but he believes his department's crime strategy in the past five years played a part locally.

Janesville crime is not only down, but the city's crime rate is falling faster than the state or national rates.

Total violent crimes in Janesville were down 8 percent in 2013, compared with the previous year.  Property crimes dropped 21 percent overall.

“I'd argue that it's smart policing that's getting us these numbers,” Moore said.

As the General Motors plant was closing in 2008, the department came up with an economic-development plan.

“If we keep it safe, the businesses will come,” given Janesville's other positives, such as good government and good schools, Moore said.

“We've been banging that drum here for five years, and the officers have bought in to that,” Moore said.

The plan was to focus on Janesville's lowest-income neighborhoods, the Old Fourth Ward and Look West.

Janesville “was at the cusp of losing those neighborhoods” in 2008, Moore said. If those neighborhoods stayed safe, all of Janesville would stay safe, Moore said.

Police focused on street-level drug dealers and drug houses. “Those are the ones that ruin neighborhoods,” Moore said.

Police focused resources on these problems right away.

“If somebody tries to set up shop here, it's not very long-lived,” Moore said.

Moore said the strategy gave Janesville a reputation.

“The talk at the jail and the probation office and among offenders is you don't bring your guns to Janesville, and you don't bring your drugs to Janesville,” Moore said. “That's what they tell one another.”

Residents also noticed. The Fourth Ward Committee, a community group, brought a bouquet of roses to the police department this month—one rose for every drug house that was shut down in the past year, Moore said.

In addition to a “very active” drug/gangs unit, police targeted domestic violence after noting that most local homicides are related to domestic violence.

Partnering with the YWCA and other groups, police since 2010 have followed up with domestic assault victims within 72 hours of the assault. They offer assistance and sometimes get them to leave the relationship or get restraining orders—preventative measures.

With the economy, Moore had expected domestic violence to get worse, but it actually has gotten better, he said.

Still, Janesville's crime rate has been higher than the state and national rates for at least 20 years—that's as far back as Moore's statistics show. Moore finds a silver lining in that statistic.

“My belief is that Janesville is very connected to its police department, and when we're connected, we get a lot more reports.”

For example, Moore noted an uptick in thefts in 2012. That was a contentious election year, and the department received quite a few complaints about stolen yard signs.

“I've got to believe if you live in Chicago or Minneapolis or Milwaukee, you probably don't report that, and likewise, if you have a six-pack of pop or beer stolen out of your garage, that's a burglary (a felony), and in a bigger city, I don't think they bother the police department with those kinds of thefts,” Moore said.

Fewer crimes might suggest that Janesville could do with fewer police officers.

Moore said fewer officers would mean longer response times to low-level crimes and nuisances such as noise or dog complaints.

Those might seem minor, but they are important to the people who call the department for help, Moore said.  

Last updated: 3:21 pm Sunday, February 23, 2014

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