Janesville’s crime rate dropped in 2018, continuing a long-term trend.
It’s a trend people might not suspect, given all the news and social-media chatter about crime.
Police Chief Dave Moore said it’s good that people know what’s going in their communities, so they can keep themselves safe.
But the messages from the news and on social media don’t often include the fact that crime has been declining for years, Moore said.
Janesville’s rate of 3,102 crimes per 100,000 population in 2018 was the second-lowest in the past 20 years.
Moore has often complained about the number of police officers in Janesville, which he said is caused by the city’s state-funding problems.
Janesville has 105 sworn officers, but if the city could afford a police force equivalent to its peer-city average, it would have 15 more officers, Moore said.
But with crime going down, Moore was asked, does the city need more cops?
“How much crime do you want to tolerate?” Moore responded. “How many homicides are you willing to accept? How many domestic-violence incidents are we willing to accept? How many deaths from heroin are we willing to accept? If you give me those numbers, then I can tell you whether we can cut officers or whether we need to add officers.”
City surveys of residents show people feel safe in their own neighborhoods but think other neighborhoods are not safe, Moore said.
“So that tells me that everybody in their own neighborhood feels OK, but it’s just kind of the fear of the unknown that suggests that maybe it’s unsafe someplace else,” Moore said.
“So I think Janesville is safe. You can go anyplace in this community and walk and drive and feel safe and be safe,” he said. “Certainly we have some level of crime. Every community does, but the frequency certainly seems to be dropping off.”
Moore said police are not the only contributors to the downward trend. He said the whole community shares credit.
Moore singled out the work of parents, schools, Rock County Human Services and the YWCA, which runs a shelter for battered women and the Care House, where victims of sexual assault tell their stories to authorities.
Moore shared the crime trend information with news media Tuesday.
The state and national crime rates also have trended down for many years. One factor is the population is getting older, on average, and young people tend to commit more crimes than older people.
Janesville’s crime rate is higher than the state and national rates. Moore said urban areas, which includes Janesville, tend to have higher rates than rural areas, which are included in the state and national statistics.
Moore said because Janesville residents trust police, they will report many minor incidents that would go unreported elsewhere, such as the theft of soft drinks out of a garage—which technically is a burglary.
Violent crime was up slightly in 2018, with 171 incidents, compared with 170 in 2017.
Most of the serious violent crimes—criminal homicide, rape and robbery—were down, but aggravated assaults were up, from 93 in 2017 to 106 in 2018.
Moore said the police department’s in-depth approach to investigating domestic violence is likely the reason for the increase in the more serious assault cases.
Domestic violence often includes strangulation, which Wisconsin law classifies as aggravated assault, he said.
Janesville police focus more resources on domestic incidents than many other departments he hears from, Moore said, which could turn up more evidence of these kinds of assaults.
Moore said the department’s domestic-violence team is one of many local initiatives that try to prevent future crime, and these initiatives contribute to the drop in crime.
Moore said he continues to be concerned about the epidemic of addiction to heroin and other opioid drugs, which caused 14 overdose deaths in 2018, the same number as in 2017.
Police have seen four opioid overdose deaths so far this year.
Other news from the report:
Truck stops and hotels are checked more often in recent years because of an emphasis on human trafficking, Moore said.
The Milton School Board might have approved a $10,500 payment to Superintendent Tim Schigur this week, but it also has hired a public accounting firm to investigate the school district’s use of stipends over time.
After a nearly three-hour closed session Monday, the board returned to open session and ratified a $10,500 stipend given to Schigur in November without the approval of the full board.
The payment was approved by a 4-3 vote with board members Brian Kvapil, Mike Pierce and Karen Hall opposed.
The district’s use of stipends has been at the center of an investigation into employee compensation that was launched in February.
A report written by investigating attorney Lori Lubinsky concluded that Schigur, Director of Administrative Operations Jerry Schuetz and IT employee Michael Gouvion did nothing wrong when they received stipends totaling $30,500 in November.
However, the report found that school board President Tom Westrick violated board policy in approving the stipend for Schigur without the board’s involvement.
It also found that Kvapil violated state law by releasing documents relating to Schigur, Schuetz and Gouvion to the public without providing required notice and giving those people a chance to augment the records.
After reconvening into open session Monday, the board made of series of announcements about the investigation that addressed lingering questions about what would happen after the investigation.
The second report addresses “supplemental issues ... investigated by a third party” after the investigation, said Shana Lewis, legal counsel for the district.
The district has released no information on what Lubinksy investigated in her second report.
Lewis said the report will be made public after the district provides notices to employees under the open records law.
Lubinksy has recommended that the board hire a financial auditor to look into the district’s use of stipends.
Monday, the board voted unanimously to hire Baker Tilly to conduct a financial audit of stipends over the past nine years, Lewis said. The accounting firm’s costs will be covered by the district’s insurance carrier, she said.
The audit will help the district determine its future use of stipends, Lewis said.
Also Monday, Kvapil apologized to Schigur, Schuetz, Gouvion and the community.
Kvapil said he believed he was acting in the district’s best interest by releasing information he thought showed wrongdoing on the part of Schigur, Schuetz and Westrick. He now believes he made an error, knowing some of the information was inaccurate, he said.
Westrick also reiterated his apology for approving Schigur’s payment, which he had apologized for in February. He said he has refrained from acting as board president at recent meetings, instead letting Vice President Don Vruwink lead the meetings.
The board found the apologies from Westrick and Kvapil to be sufficient penalties for their roles in events leading up to the investigation, Vruwink said.
The district’s policy committee now will work with Lewis and Neola, an organization that guides school districts on best practices, to revise policies that are insufficient and contributed to confusion and miscommunication leading up to the stipend dispute, Lewis said.
Milton School Board member Brian Kvapil has retracted statements he made about Jerry Schuetz, the district’s director of administrative operations, after receiving a cease-and-desist letter from Schuetz’s attorney.
In a letter dated March 21, Schuetz’s Madison-based attorney, Caitlin Madden, demanded Kvapil stop making false statements about Schuetz and issue a retraction of prior defamatory comments.
Kvapil shared the letter on his School District-Milton Transparency Project Facebook page with a statement:
“Please know, I formally retract any statement I made which directly or indirectly suggested Mr. Schuetz received payments from the school district illegally or against board policy.”
If Kvapil continues to make statements he knows are false, Schuetz could establish “actual malice” against Kvapil, which is key to winning a defamation lawsuit, according to the letter.
The statements Kvapil made about Schuetz have harmed his reputation and caused his family “significant emotional distress,” the letter states.
The letter points to multiple instances in which Kvapil publicly made statements about Schuetz that were proved false in an investigation report issued by attorney Lori Lubinsky last month.
On Feb. 8, Kvapil wrote on his Facebook page that he “discovered” that the district had paid stipends to Schuetz, Superintendent Tim Schigur and a third employee, and “the procedure used to award or pay these stipends is a gross violation of the public’s trust as well as possible violation of district policy and state statutes.” Kvapil did not provide evidence for the statement, according to the letter.
Kvapil also wrote that the “community’s tax money” was “inappropriately spent on excessive bonuses by three individuals behind closed doors.”
Lubinsky’s investigation concluded that Schuetz did nothing wrong when he received a $10,000 stipend for taking on additional duties outside his role as director of administrative operations.
It also found Kvapil violated state law by releasing documents about district employees without providing required notice and giving those people a chance to augment the records, according to Lubinsky’s report.
In a statement published in the Edgerton Reporter, Kvapil repeated his charge that the stipends were “a gross violation of our public trust and of district policy and state statutes.”
Kvapil claimed on Facebook that those who accepted the stipends did so “illegally,” and he considered that “stealing.” The investigation did not reach that conclusion, according to the letter.
Madden said Kvapil continued to defame Schuetz in his augmentation to the investigation report, questioning Schuetz’s business administration experience and saying Kvapil has a “long history of receiving biased, inaccurate, and/or incomplete information from Mr. Schigur and Mr. Schuetz.”
Kvapil has deleted the Facebook posts and comments mentioned in the cease-and-desist letter.
Madden also demanded Kvapil preserve all digital and printed documents relevant to Schuetz’s defamation claims—including email and Facebook exchanges with the media.
Kvapil made his first in-person public apology Monday night after a nearly three-hour closed session at the end of the school board meeting.
Kvapil said he believed he was acting in the district’s best interest by releasing information he thought showed wrongdoing on the part of Schuetz and others. He now believes he made an error, knowing some of the information was inaccurate, he said.
The school board decided Kvapil’s apology was a proper penalty for his actions leading up to the investigation.
Daniel “Dan” Ahler
Dennis D. Anderson
Roger W. Bates Sr.
Marjorie “Margie” Bley
Jerome “Jerry” Borchardt
Vickie Lynn Christensen
Brian A. DeRemer
Basil J. Dewey
Irene M. Dykeman
Thomas J. Flood
Donald “Donnie” Frank
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Nancy A. Schmieden
Beverly A. Westwood
An appeals court Tuesday declined to reinstate 15 appointees of former Gov. Scott Walker, handing a victory to Gov. Tony Evers amid an escalating fight over attempts to limit the powers of the Democratic governor.
The unanimous decision came just hours after the leader of the state Senate said he was holding off on confirming Evers’ Cabinet because of the dispute over the Walker appointees.
“I think some of those Cabinet members are going to be in trouble,” Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald of Juneau said of Evers’ top advisers.
Republicans said they would take the case to the state Supreme Court to try to overturn it.
The dispute springs from a lame-duck session Republicans held in December to confirm 82 Walker appointees and pass laws curbing the powers of Evers and Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul before they were sworn in.
Four legal actions have been filed over the lame-duck session.
In one case, Dane County Circuit Judge Richard Niess last month ruled all actions taken during the session were invalid. In response, Evers rescinded the 82 appointments made by Walker.
Days later, the District 3 Court of Appeals reversed Niess, and the two sides immediately began arguing over whether the Walker appointees continued to hold their posts.
Evers has since reinstated 67 of the 82 Walker appointees, erasing doubts about whether they can continue to serve
But he has not acted on the other 15 appointments. He contended those jobs are vacant, while Fitzgerald and other Republicans said they were still held by the Walker appointees.
The Court of Appeals on Tuesday sided with Evers, noting he withdrew the appointments when the only court order in effect had found their confirmations were invalid.
“In short, if the governor had the authority to withdraw the nominations pursuant to the temporary injunction while that injunction was in place, then the withdrawals were valid and are not affected by our subsequent stay of the injunction,” the judges wrote.
The decision was reached by Judge Mark Seidl, who was elected in 2015; Judge Thomas Hruz, who was appointed by Walker in 2014; and Judge Lisa Stark, who was appointed by Walker in 2013 just before her election. She was the only candidate on the ballot.
The judges noted if courts ultimately side with Republicans in the underlying lawsuit, they can then determine whether the Walker appointees should get their positions back.
Evers spokeswoman Melissa Baldauff said Republicans had “recklessly” confirmed Walker’s appointees in December and argued the state deserves better from them.
“As the governor has repeatedly said, he acted properly and within the law to withdraw those improper appointments and make his own valid appointments,” she said in a statement.
The appointments include ones on the UW System Board of Regents, the Public Service Commission, and the Labor and Industry Review Commission.
The PSC regulates utilities and the other commission handles workplace disputes. Both consist of three members, and there is a risk of them deadlocking while they are shorthanded.
Evers has revoked the appointments of the PSC’s Ellen Nowak and the Labor and Industry Review Commission’s Georgia Maxwell.
Evers chief of staff Maggie Gau alerted Fitzgerald to Evers’ plan to rescind the appointments just before he did so last month, according to Fitzgerald. He said he warned Gau that the governor shouldn’t take such a step.
“I said, ‘I think that’s going to cause some trouble in the caucus. That’s not going to be well received,’” Fitzgerald told reporters. “And my prediction was right. It wasn’t. People are pretty upset about Ellen and about Georgia.”
After the appeals court issued its decision, Fitzgerald said lawmakers would appeal the ruling to the state Supreme Court. Earlier in the day, he said he was pleased conservative Judge Brian Hagedorn won a seat on the high court last week.
Hagedorn will replace liberal Justice Shirley Abrahamson, who did not seek re-election. He will join the high court in August, and his addition will widen the conservative majority from 4-3 to 5-2.
“Thank God for Brian Hagedorn,” Fitzgerald said. “I can’t wait for him to be seated.”
Two of the lame-duck cases are in state court and can eventually get to the Wisconsin Supreme Court. The other cases are in federal court.
For now, the Republican Senate isn’t acting on Evers’ Cabinet because of the dispute over the Walker appointees. It’s unclear how Tuesday’s court decision will affect what the Senate does next.
The Democratic governor’s Cabinet secretaries are able to do their jobs without confirmation, but Fitzgerald’s approach gives Republicans the ability to push them out of their jobs with little notice.
Speaking before the court issued its decision, Evers said a delay in confirming his Cabinet would not affect how he handles appointments. He said he saw Fitzgerald’s comments as “the huffing and puffing that goes on” in the Capitol rather than a form of retribution.
“This will be resolved at some point. Whether it’s retribution or not, it’s not going to work,” Evers told reporters.
“It’s just important that the hard feelings that were expressed by the senator don’t carry over into the day-to-day work of these important agencies.”
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos questioned why Evers is fighting over the Walker appointees when he has not yet made other appointments, such as ones to lead the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority and the Higher Educational Aids Board.
“I feel like they’re so focused on being political, scoring points, trying to fill all these things, I think most people say, ‘Wait a minute, how come you’re not doing your day job?’” the Rochester Republican said.
Democrats called the decision to put off confirming Evers’ Cabinet petty and obstructionist.
“The political theatrics from Republican leaders are getting old,” said a statement from Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling of La Crosse.