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:
- Adult arrests were down, from 3,359 in 2017 to 3,291 in 2018. Juvenile arrests declined from 1,019 to 842.
- Police handled six gunshot wound incidents in 2018, the highest number in five years.
- The number of shots-fired accidents in 2018 was 42, which is close to the five-year average.
- The number of all overdoses—which includes those in which the victim survived—was 149 last year, down from 201 in 2017.
- Traffic stops dropped from 9,669 in 2017 to 8,850 in 2018. Moore said two things affect that number: the availability of officers and traffic-enforcement grant funding. Janesville’s relatively low number of officers affects their ability to enforce traffic laws, he said.
- Business checks were up, from 857 to 1,139. Officers are told to make frequent contacts with businesses to develop relationships and trust, and that results in more tips, Moore said, noting that reports of suspicious vehicles and suspicious persons is up.
Truck stops and hotels are checked more often in recent years because of an emphasis on human trafficking, Moore said.
- 302 adults were arrested for intoxicated driving in the city last year, compared to the five-year average of 309.