Heroin has a lot to do with an increase in crime in Janesville last year.
That’s the opinion of Police Chief Dave Moore, who released the 2017 crime statistics Wednesday.
The city’s crime rate dropped in each of the two previous years, but it jumped by 11.5 percent in 2017.
Property crimes—burglary, theft, car theft and arson—were a major driver of the increase. Together, they increased about 10.5 percent.
Moore noted people need a lot of money to maintain a drug habit, and many commit crimes to get the money.
Police pulled a random sample of people arrested for theft last year and found 61 percent had been involved in drug crimes. Another random sample of people arrested for drug offenses found 47 percent had been involved in property crimes.
An officer who works with addicts estimated 90 percent of them committed crimes to support their habits, Moore said.
Moore said the epidemic of addiction to heroin and associated drugs continues to be a major problem here. He noted Janesville set a record with 14 overdose deaths from heroin and other opiates last year. Police know of 48 other opiate overdoses in which the victims survived.
So far this year, police already have seen 14 opiate overdoses, three of those resulting in death.
Overdoses of all kinds, which include alcohol and other non-opiate drugs, were the highest in at least five years, at 201.
Another factor that drives up property crimes is the large commercial district on Milton Avenue and Highway 14, which draws thieves from nearby Interstate 90/39, Moore said.
Violent crime went up even more steeply than the overall crime rate, but most of the increase was because the federal government changed its definition of rape, which shifted previously reported sexual assaults into the rape category, Moore said.
The city did see two homicides in 2017, the first crimes of that kind since 2014. Moore pointed out that neither the suspect nor the victim in the shooting homicide in May were from Janesville, and the suspect in a stabbing homicide in December had recently moved to the city.
Moore was not highly concerned about the one-year uptick in crime here.
“These are still historically low crime rates for this community,” he said.
Moore pointed to statistics for the past 25 years, which shows a general downward trend. The rate in 1993, for example, was more than 7,000 crimes per 100,000 population. That number for 2017 was 3,357.
National and state crime rates also have declined over those years.
Moore said Janesville is a community that by and large trusts the police and will report minor crimes more frequently than in many other communities, which tends to inflate some crime statistics.
Other statistics from the 2017 crime report:
Parker High School students will be able to tell their grandchildren that they had to walk uphill through the snow to get to school.
They also had to walk downhill through the snow and solve an engineering problem when they got to the bottom.
Wednesday, Parker High School’s engineering and construction classes met at the Janesville Schools Outdoor Laboratory.
“It’s important to show students real-life situations,” said Joe Kapugia, a technical education teacher. “And we wanted to have engineering and construction students there to get the viewpoints from two different occupations who are going to be working together.”
At issue was a flood-damaged bridge over Marsh Creek. The bridge had survived the floods of 2008 but was damaged in the recent round of winter flooding, explained Paul Stengel, coordinator of the outdoor lab.
Floodwaters swirled around the southern side of the bridge, creating an eddy that carried away the soil around the steps.
A large hole formed, and the concrete stairs were pulled into it. The southern part of bridge was pulled down and away from its supports.
Now several large posts are all that hold that side of the bridge out of the water.
In another area, flood debris blocked part of the creek, which formed its own path around the pile and was nibbling on part of the Ice Age Trail.
Kapugia and fellow teacher Aaron Bogacz asked students what, if anything, could have been done to keep the bridge from collapsing.
Soil samples might have given builders a better sense of the base they needed. Concrete supports might have helped.
But it’s also possible that the record flood of 2008 and this year’s flooding were too much for the stream banks.
At the end of class, the students hiked back up the hill with a challenge: Find a long-term fix for the bridge.
Later in the semester, city engineers will talk to students about how they developed their fix.
The outdoor lab, also known as the Robert O. Cook Arboretum, is a joint city-school district property. The city is in charge of bridge repairs.
The lab will benefit from the district’s new promises, a set of goals that includes the increased use of hands-on “engaged and empowered” teaching, Kapugia said.
The Janesville School Board backed up that promise by providing more funding for the outdoor lab, Stengel said. This year, sixth-grade classes will join the fourth-graders who visit the lab annually.
Stengel hopes high school students might be able to help with invasive species management and repairs to a cabin on the grounds.
Next week’s Hawk Zone vote is still on and the purchase price is still the same despite a preliminary city assessment that showed the building is worth $100,000 less than the Milton School District originally thought.
The Milton School Board held a special meeting Wednesday to reconsider holding that special electorate meeting, scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday. But the board ultimately decided not to change anything.
District voters will decide Monday whether to buy the Hawk Zone from its current owner, Backyard Properties. Milton has rented the former bowling alley for the past year and would like to purchase the building.
In accordance with state statutes, the decision rests in residents’ hands because it would acquire new property. Milton went through a similar process in 2011 when it bought the current district office building.
Milton officials have touted the Hawk Zone as an asset for school-affiliated sports teams and youth recreation. They have said it provides extra athletics space to free up a practice logjam elsewhere.
Wednesday’s special meeting to reconsider the vote was unexpected given the district’s past satisfaction with the facility.
On Feb. 26, the board voted 6-1 to hold the vote to potentially buy the Hawk Zone, with Brian Kvapil opposed. The board also agreed that, if the purchase was approved, the sale would cost $485,000 plus an additional $15,000 for electrical upgrades.
A week later, the school district received an uncertified 2018 assessment from the city. The building is now valued at $398,000, down from last year’s valuation of $498,000, District Administrator Tim Schigur said.
Upon receiving that revision, Milton approached Backyard Properties and asked to lower the purchase price. The current owners would not budge, Schigur said.
He wasn’t sure what caused such a significant drop in estimated value. The assessor did not have access inside the building and had to judge based on its drab exterior and most recent sale price of $350,000, Schigur said.
He and the board decided to hold Wednesday’s meeting to make the assessment info public and discuss leaving the sale agreement, he said.
But the board mostly stuck to its previous positions and decided 5-2 to keep the special electorate meeting scheduled as is. Only Tom Westrick flipped, saying the money would be better spent on a new facility.
Kvapil had a similar view. The money should go toward more critical needs or the district could consider putting those funds toward a new building, he said.
Westrick said he made his decision last week based on the most accurate info then available. Despite his changed stance Wednesday, he said he would support the board's choice to still hold the vote.
Shelly Crull-Hanke, Bob Cullen, Karen Hall and Betsy Lubke said they still wanted to let the electorate decide despite the reduced assessment. This was a creative option designed as a stopgap for current facility needs, they said.
Don Vruwink said the space could be rented out to other groups. A Fort Atkinson-based sports organization has expressed interest, he said.
Cullen believes the property’s proximity to the high school adds value for the district. As far as the cost, the district wouldn’t have modified the agreement had the assessment come in higher than expected.
“The price is the price,” he said.
Kvapil wanted to know why the district was rushing to finish this transaction. Schigur said the district’s lease ends March 31, and other buyers are interested.
Schigur did not believe the new assessment would affect Monday’s outcome. Most people have already decided how they will vote, he said.
Monday’s special electorate meeting will begin at 6 p.m. Similar to the district’s annual meeting, residents must be in attendance if they want to vote.
The vote will not take long because the regular board meeting will follow at 6:30 p.m.
CORRECTION (7:15 p.m. March 8): This story has been updated to clarify Tom Westrick's comments. Despite voting to rescind the Hawk Zone ballot, he said he would support the board's decision to still hold the vote.
Local • 3A, 6A
UChicago cutting Yerkes ties
Activities at the Yerkes Observatory in Williams Bay will “wind down” over the next six months and effectively halt by Oct. 1, University of Chicago officials announced Wednesday. University spokesman Jeremy Manier said the long-term use for the observatory “has not yet been determined” and that the university hopes to engage with Yerkes staff and Williams Bay officials to consider the observatory’s future.
GM work could start in April
It appears work to tear down Janesville’s defunct General Motors plant could begin April 1. According to an online hiring advertisement posted this week, the company that bought the shuttered south-side plant last year is hiring heavy-machinery operators to handle demolition at the site.
State • 2A
Walker confident in bills
Gov. Scott Walker emerged from a closed-door meeting with Senate Republicans on Wednesday confident that his $80 million juvenile justice overhaul plan and other priorities such as a $100 child tax rebate can pass, even as the more skeptical Republican leader of the Senate said changes were coming.
Study: More ER visits after ODs
Emergency room visits for suspected opioid overdoses increased 109 percent in Wisconsin from July 2016 to September 2017, according to federal health officials. The state had the largest spike of the 16 states that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention observed.
President Donald Trump is expected to sign off on his controversial plan to slap stiff tariffs on imported steel and aluminum as early as today, but in a surprise reversal, the White House opened the door to exemptions for products from Canada, Mexico and other U.S. allies.
Carve-outs for certain countries from Trump’s proposed double-digit duties would mark a retreat from the president’s insistence earlier that the levy would be across the board.
And that could mollify leading U.S. trading partners and allies that have roundly criticized the tariffs and threatened to respond with retaliatory measures.
Excluding allies from the tariffs also could help the Trump better focus on his intended target, China, especially at a time when the U.S. and other Western powers have begun to take a more skeptical view of Beijing in light of the Chinese leadership’s increasingly assertive and expansionist activities.
Though China’s overproduction of steel is seen as the primary cause of a global glut, the United States gets a relatively small amount of imported metals from China. Instead, most U.S. steel and aluminum imports come from Canada and other allies.
So sharp opposition and threats of retaliation have come not from Beijing, but from Washington’s staunchest allies. European Union leaders Wednesday endorsed a plan to target for counter-tariffs items such as American steel, chewing tobacco and orange juice.
“Right now what this is doing is getting all of Europe’s attention and energy, (and a) focus on pushing back against the United States, not pushing on China,” said Jennifer Hillman, a Georgetown University law professor and former member of the World Trade Organization’s appellate body.
Trump’s announcement last week that he would apply blanket tariffs of 25 percent on imported steel and 10 percent on aluminum shocked trading partners and led to the resignation of White House National Economic Council director Gary Cohn.
As Trump’s top economic advisor, Cohn had been a moderating influence on Trump’s protectionist impulses, but the president went ahead with the tariff proclamations despite Cohn’s advice and that of congressional Republicans and business leaders that such action could hurt economic growth and lead to a trade war.
On Wednesday, 107 House Republicans sent Trump a letter urging him “to reconsider the idea of broad tariffs to avoid unintended negative consequences to the U.S. economy and its workers.”
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders confirmed Trump’s proposed tariffs would be formalized by week’s end.
“There are potential carve-outs for Mexico and Canada based on national security and possibly other countries as well, based on that process,” Sanders said. She added that decisions would be made on a “case-by-case and country-by-country basis.”
Previously, administration officials had resisted any exemptions, warning it would open a Pandora’s box.
Trump’s tariff authority comes from a U.S. law that allows the president wide discretion to apply duties or other restrictions if the Commerce Department has found imports present a threat to national security. That determination was made—the first time a U.S. president has done so under the law in decades.
After formally being announced by the president, the tariffs must be implemented within 15 days, Hillman said. That window would give nations and companies time to request exemptions.
Canada is by far the largest single shipper of steel and aluminum to the United States. And Mexico, South Korea and Japan, as well as North Atlantic Treaty Organization members such as Germany and Turkey, stand to be among the biggest losers if the tariffs take effect.
China, by contrast, accounted for just 2.4 percent of all iron and steel imports to the United States last year, thanks to many prior American dumping duties placed against various Chinese steel products in preceding years.
“I think ultimately that Mexico and Canada are part of the solution on steel, whether that’s declared later this week or down the road,” said Scott Paul, president of the Alliance for American Manufacturing, a group that has advocated for strong actions to protect U.S. steel producers.
Paul added, however, that “we must ensure that the governments of Mexico and Canada are vigilant against circumvention, join the U.S. in active trade actions to keep excess steel out of the North American market, and renegotiate NAFTA to work better for workers in all three nations.”
China, for its part, has said very little about the proposed tariffs, apparently having decided to wait until the duties are finalized and made public. The Chinese know that Trump in the past has said one thing and changed his mind later.
“The Chinese are trying to play the long game, whereas the EU and allies are frustrated,” said Andy Rothman, a former economic officer at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing and now an investment strategist for Matthews Asia in San Francisco. “Their rhetoric was quite calm and restrained,” he said, although prior to the tariff announcement, Beijing sent a warning that U.S. protectionist measures could be met with limits on American imports of sorghum and other farm goods to China.
In the last year, the administration has issued anti-dumping and illegal subsidy duties on individual Chinese products, as it has on those of other countries. Trump has also opened an investigation into China’s theft of intellectual property and forced technology transfer, which could result in significant punitive actions such as large tariffs or restrictions on imported electronics from China.