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School shootings on the mind of local law enforcement


Janesville police receive dozens of tips each year about young people who might be a threat to themselves or others.

Some have made threats to harm others at school, said Sgt. Aaron Ellis.

It’s possible that by following up on those tips, police have averted a shooting at a school here, Police Chief Dave Moore said at a meeting of the Rock County Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee.

Police take all such tips seriously and will talk to the student and the parents, Moore said Thursday in the wake of the mass shooting at a Parkland, Florida, school.

If needed, police will offer to take weapons out of the home for safekeeping, Moore said.

“You never know the crimes you’ve prevented, but in my opinion, we’ve avoided some, either an issue in the school or a student that may harm themselves,” Moore said after the meeting.

Moore said police aggressively pursue all such tips immediately, no matter what time of day or night.

It’s important to find out if there’s a threat, Moore said, “because look around the nation. Look what’s happening when you don’t. We urge people to report things they hear and see.”

Police will figure out if the threat is real or not, Moore said, “but we’ve got to get the call.”

Many tips come from young people. High school students often know more about what’s going on than do teachers or other school officials, Moore said.

Moore and said his officers, sheriff’s deputies and those of other local jurisdictions train for rapid response to school shootings, and they can deal with a shooter or shooters.

But by the time they arrive on the scene, “we’ve already lost the battle,” he said.

The best way to avert tragedies is to stop them before they start, Moore said, and that requires someone to speak up.

Moore said in 90 percent of school shootings, someone had information that could have helped police or school officials deal with the shooter ahead of time, but the information didn’t come out until after the fact.

A Janesville Parker High School student made a threat recently, someone told police, and officers were waiting for her when she came to school, Ellis said.

The girl didn’t have a weapon, and she really didn’t intend to hurt anyone, but officers didn’t know that until they investigated, Ellis said.

Ellis said a cellphone app—introduced here in 2015—allows anonymous tips, and police are getting many more tips than they ever have, about 100 a month, and many of those are about people with mental-health problems.

Ten to 20 of those monthly tips involve a student who is believed to be a threat to himself or others, Ellis said.

Ellis said officers throughout the county receive the tips from the P3 Tips app, and someone monitors them 24/7, so if a threat is happening in Milton or in a rural area, for example, officers will respond there, too.

Those who prefer older technology can still call Janesville Area CrimeStoppers, 608-756-3636.

Moore said the shooter in Florida pulled the fire alarm, the third time a school shooter has used that tactic to gain access to victims, and that’s something that will have to be dealt with.

Moore attended a meeting of the Wisconsin Chiefs of Police Association on Tuesday night and heard a speech by the mother of a girl who died in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Connecticut in 2012.

The mother talked about one thing students and staff are advised to do: hide and barricade themselves. Sixteen students hid in a rest room at the school, and that’s where the gunman found them, Moore said.

For at least a year, police and Janesville schools have been teaching a variation of the hide-and-barricade method, Moore said. Now, the advice is to run if possible, then hide, and if all else fails, fight.

Cmdr. Troy Knudson of the Rock County Sheriff’s Office, who also attended Thursday’s meeting, agreed with Moore about the importance of getting information about a possible threat before the tragedy happens. Knudson said he had worked with several county school districts, “and they’ve come a long way from the routine of hiding under their desks.”

Also at the meeting was Rock County District Attorney David O’Leary, who said that when he attends national training sessions, people from other states are amazed at the level of cooperation and communication among law enforcement, judges, prosecutors and others in Rock County.

Another participant at the meeting, Beloit College sociology professor Carol Wickersham, asked if law enforcement keeps track of people who stockpile weapons, particularly those that can fire rapidly.

O’Leary said “no,” because people have a constitutional right to own weapons.

But plans are in place to respond when concerns are raised about people who might be threats, and people have voluntarily given up their guns in some cases, O’Leary said.

Kate Luster, who heads the county human services department, said her caseworkers always ask about weapons in the home when they investigate people with mental-health problems.

Walworth County proposes short-term rental changes


After years of contention over them, Walworth County’s short-term rental policies could change significantly in coming months.

The Walworth County Zoning Agency agreed on several new proposals Thursday night, advancing the measures to a public hearing in March.

The proposals define short-term rentals in the county’s zoning code and redefine a short-term rental as a seven-day minimum stay.

Short-term rentals—such as those available through Airbnb and VRBO—currently come with a 30-day minimum stay requirement in the unincorporated areas of Walworth County.

The state Legislature passed a law in September that bars counties from turning down short-term rentals of at least seven consecutive days.

The Walworth County proposals must be approved by the county board, but the seven-day state requirement cannot be changed.

“The state Legislature limited our ability to prohibit short-term rentals,” said Shannon Haydin, deputy director of Walworth County Land Use and Resource Management Department. “Our hands are tied.”

The county currently limits the number of occupants in a short-term rental to two per bedroom. Under a new proposal, the number of acceptable tenants would depend mostly on the property’s septic system.

If the property is served by public sanitation, the legal occupancy would be determined by the state tourist rooming house license. But if the property is served by private wastewater, the legal occupancy would be determined by either the housing license or the number of inhabitants specified by that septic system, whichever number is lower.

A plot survey would not be required for a short-term rental application, but an application fee of $1,000 is proposed. Haydin noted there will be pushback from county residents on that fee.

Walworth County Land Use Director Michael Cotter said the fee will pay for new county employees who will enforce the proposed measures, but the fee will depend on the number of residents that ultimately apply.

Short-term rentals have been a contentious issue in Walworth County for several years.

Fourteen lawsuits regarding short-term rentals have been filed against the county since 2014, when a court forced the county to fine-tune its policies.

Haydin said the policy updates seek to further clarify the county’s zoning codes before the tourism season starts.

Keeping the policy within the boundaries of the seven-day minimum requirement by the state allows single-family residential homes to “act like single-family residential homes rather than a hotel,” Haydin said.

“If you have different groups of people coming in every few days, and you’re the neighbor, it feels like a hotel,” Haydin said. “There are two sides to the story.”

Hundreds of short-term rentals are currently listed on in Walworth County, with bedrooms ranging from one to 13. Renters may reserve some of the houses from one night to several weeks.

At the end of 2017, Walworth County fined residents $663 a day for breaking short-term rental policies.

Some of the properties listed online fall under municipal jurisdiction, and those communities have their own short-term rental zoning laws.

Lake Geneva, which is home to many short-term rentals, plans to hold a public hearing in March as it adapts its policies in light of the new state law, said Fred Walling, Lake Geneva’s building and zoning administrator.

At the county zoning meeting Thursday night, Cotter said the county is hopeful that “good renters will help this process along and police the renters that are problematic.”

“Now’s the time to come to the public hearing and speak and let your opinions be known,” Cotter said. “I urge people to show up.”

The date of the county’s public hearing has not yet been set.

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January count shows Janesville enrollment down again


The numbers are in: The Janesville School District’s latest student count shows enrollment dropped again, both from the September count and from January 2017.

Janesville public schools have the fewest students enrolled in at least 14 years.

The total from the Jan. 12 count was 10,114 students—down 72 from the January 2017 count, according to a news release from the Janesville School District.

That’s a decrease of less than 1 percent.

The January count also dropped 29 from Sept. 15, 2017, when the district recorded 10,143 students.

It’s typical for student numbers to decrease between September and January, school officials said in a statement.

“These numbers are the net result of students moving in and out of the district, mid-year graduates and students dropping out or aging out of high school,” officials said in the news release.

But overall, both the September and January counts represent a slow decline in enrollment that matches local demographic trends, officials said.

Birth rates dipped between 2009 and 2011 but began to rise between 2012 and 2014. Children born in those years are beginning to show up in Janesville schools.

The number of students in 4-year-old kindergarten rose from 600 in January 2017 to 625 in January 2018.

The number of students attending early childhood programs increased from 80 to 81 in the same time period.

The district expects to see kindergarten and early childhood enrollment numbers continue to rise based on increasing birth rates.

Enrollment also is expected to grow based on the recent surge in economic development, said Patrick Gasper, district communication specialist.

In the past 14 years, district enrollment has risen and fallen. The September enrollment numbers have ranged from a high of 10,541 in the 2008-09 school year to a low of 10,143 this September. The high for the January count was 10,393 in the 2004-05 school year to a low of 10,114 this school year.

The last time a January count was close to this low was in the 2007-08 school year, when enrollment was 10,117.

The state Department of Public Instruction requires the September and January counts, which are used to calculate the district’s revenue limit and aid, according to the DPI’s website.

The funding formula is complicated and relies on more than student numbers, but it comes down to this: For the 2017-18 school year, each student brings about $6,748 in state aid.

Open enrollment has become a factor, too. Open enrollment allows parents to send their children to a public school outside their home district.

Last year, the Janesville School District spent an estimated $10,000 on open-enrollment marketing.

The district isn’t planning a similar marketing effort this year, Gasper said. The subject didn’t come up this year, and the school district’s goals have changed, he said.

The school board and district administration set measurable goals that aim to reflect the district’s values. In 2016-17, one of the goals was to increase open enrollment by 50 students each year.

In October, the school board approved a new five-year plan that includes targets for student achievement; parent, teacher and student satisfaction; and a variety of other goals.

Increasing open enrollment was not part of the new goals.

Gazette at a Glance for Feb. 16, 2018

State • 2A

Welfare overhaul bills advance

The Republican-controlled state Assembly approved a welfare overhaul package Thursday championed by Gov. Scott Walker as part of his re-election year agenda that would give Wisconsin one of the toughest work requirements for food stamp recipients in the country.

Local • 3A, 6A, 8A

Banker testifies at hearing

Janesville Fire Department Chief Randy Banker defended himself Thursday night against a charge of malfeasance brought by a former employee during a hearing with the Janesville Police and Fire Commission.

3 in custody after shooting

Two Janesville teens and a Beloit man were are in connection with a shooting around 7:30 p.m. Monday in the 300 block of South Academy Street in Janesville, where “a drug-related disturbance” occurred, according to the police department.