Statistics don't support perception of crime in downtown Janesville
2011 Downtown Disorderly Conduct and Disturbances
2011 Downtown Battery and Assaults
2011 Downtown Robberies and Stabbings
2011 Downtown Theft Incidents
JANESVILLE The notion that crime is worse in downtown Janesville has been around for years, but police say their statistics don’t support the long-held perception.
“What the numbers actually show is that there are relatively few crimes downtown,” Lt. Keith Lawver said.
The city’s Downtown Development Alliance is trying to spread the news.
“The DDA wants to get the message out that the downtown has a lot of good things going on, but there’s this perception that it isn’t safe,” said Dave Marshick, DDA chairman.
The alliance formed in 2002 as a liaison between the city and downtown property owners and businesses. It’s undergone changes in the last decade but maintained its interest in downtown safety.
“As a DDA, we get it: The downtown is safe,” Marshick said.
In search of talking points to promote the downtown, Marshick asked Police Chief David Moore to report to the alliance on criminal activity downtown.
Moore and his staff compiled statistics on 18 crime categories and found that of the 6,000-plus calls for service in 2011, about 8 percent originated in the downtown area.
Downtown was the scene of 40 percent of the city’s stabbings last year. While that could be a dramatic headline, Moore said the city had five stabbing incidents in 2011; two of them were downtown.
One involved the early-morning stabbings of three people in a downtown parking lot Dec. 30. Moore said police are confident charges will be filed in the near future, and a suspect has been in custody since shortly after the incident.
The other stabbing was the result of an early-morning domestic altercation.
In relation to citywide calls, arson investigations accounted for the second-highest percentage of reports: four of the city’s 13 in 2011.
Rounding out the top six were battery/assault, disturbance/fight, subject down and disorderly conduct.
“Disorderly conducts and disturbances are the big deal downtown,” Moore said, noting that the majority of those calls came late at night or early in the morning.
“That’s going to happen when you have a concentration of bars and alcohol.”
Understanding that, Moore said his department has increased its downtown presence at bar time, developed partnerships with bar owners and worked extensively with the city’s Alcohol License Advisory Committee.
“If you take out the disturbances late at night, crime is not much of an issue downtown,” he said.
Moore is well aware of the safety perception. While the statistics don’t support the perception, other factors influence people’s thinking, he said.
The city’s homeless population is in part centered on the downtown, which has a bike trail through its heart that provides easy access, he said.
The community’s racial makeup has changed, he said, and that, too, has contributed to the perception.
Moore said the downtown area is home to several agencies and facilities that serve people in need.
“It takes time for a community to understand its changes, and it takes time to change perceptions,” he said.
A 2009 survey showed that downtown residents living on the east side of the Rock River felt the safest. Those living on the west side felt the least safe.
Moore said his department has assigned considerably more resources to the Fourth Ward, and he expects the next survey will reflect that.
Mick Gilbertson owns The Armory just north of the Fourth Ward.
“When we first opened an office downtown, there were issues, but the city responded and took control,” he said. “I agree, however, that the perception still exists, and I don’t know what drives that.
“We’ve had very few problems, and any we do have are promptly addressed by the city and police department.”
Gilbertson said that in comparison to other cities, Janesville is safe.
Still, he said, his business takes precautions to ensure the safety of his guests and employees.
“I think there’s just more activity in downtown Janesville, and the tolerance for crime is less,” he said.
Since 2002, national, state and local crime rates have declined. Janesville’s overall crime rate declined nearly 15 percent since 2008.
Moore attributes the decline to several factors: an aging demographic, court and probation agencies with new approaches, school interventions and community policing.
“We’ve really pushed our officers to be problem-solvers instead of just sitting in a squad car waiting for a call to come in,” he said. “Our officers are much more involved in the community, including the Fourth Ward and Look West neighborhoods that border the downtown.”
The Downtown Development Alliance will continue to promote the downtown and the fact that it is a safe place to visit, work or live.
“We want to continue to bring good events downtown and get people down here so that they enjoy themselves and see that the downtown is safe,” Marshick said. “When people experience good things going on safely, they’ll tell one person and hopefully that person will tell another two.
“That’s how we hope to change the perception.”