As we are in the midst of some of the worst gun violence our City has ever experienced, my thoughts turn to victims. We are all anxious and concerned about the brazen acts occurring citywide (“shots fired” calls are up 63% over last year’s figure/year-to-date). But innocent people have also been killed from edged weapons and vehicles being operated by individuals who are driving recklessly and/or impaired from alcohol/drugs.
During a recent, informal sidebar with a few members of the media, someone asked me about the City’s current crime trends. As I started listing the various crimes commonly queried (burglaries, thefts from autos, robberies, heroin overdoses, etc.), one intrepid reporter wanted to know the number of “homicides.” I noted that by “my” count, we were at “12” and I saw furrowed brows and confused of glances shared among the pool of reporters. At this point, I informed them that conventional categories of statistical crime reports do not recognize “homicide” victims who have been killed by two ton bullets posing as “cars.” I do. We do not want to be insensitive to those family members and friends who have experienced grief and loss. The devastation is just as great for those who have lost someone senselessly killed in a traffic setting. So after my teachable moment, I then restored order to the universe by providing the “accepted” orthodoxy of what officially constitutes a homicide and provided the assembled media members with the number “8.”
To be fair to our reporting media, I have found them to be extremely conscientious in their attempts to shine a light on those heart rending stories where completely innocent and unsuspecting citizens have been killed by offenders operating cars. By way of example, when watching the reports of how Kirk U’ren and Jennifer Steiner–a married couple on their way to watching a basketball game—left behind young twins when their car was hit by another vehicle, we all cried. When Wenxin Huai was struck and killed while walking down a sidewalk by a drunk driver, we lamented that this young graduate student would never be able to enjoy the life that she had so diligently planned and worked hard for. And when Alexandra Ihm subsequently died as a result of the injuries she sustained after being struck by a drunk driver, it really hit home for me as I have young adult sons and I could not begin to grasp what life would mean for Jane (my wife) and me without them.
Each of these tragic deaths were numbing to our collective psyche. But I am going to focus on Alexandra as a synthesis of what havoc irresponsible motorists can cause a family and the greater community. I can recall waiting outside in the cold for over an hour in Blanchardville while literally hundreds of people stood in line to pay their respects. Once inside, I waited another hour before it was my turn to extend my condolences to the family of Alexandra. As I had a long time to wait, my eyes drifted to the slideshow which captured various stages of her life and the photos that were festooned along the walls of the room. I listened as those around me shared stories filled with both laughter and tears. And I came to realize and appreciate that this young woman was the “complete” package to those who were privileged to have shared a part of their lives coming to know Alexandra. Though I never was lucky enough to have known Alexandra I can certainly understand the depths of pain occasioned by her abrupt departure.
Ironically, when someone is killed by knife or gun, the Department galvanizes a boatload of officers/detectives/forensic investigators/commanders and incident command posts are staffed until all logical leads have been exhausted or an arrest made. There are daily media briefings, constant updates to Patrol for pursuing possible suspects, networking with Alders/Mayor’s Office, and we spare no expense(s) as the continued threat to the community looms large. There are expectations–which are both understood and embraced–that the cops do something. Yet the overwhelming majority of these homicides are not reflective of an ongoing, generalized threat to the community as most of the encounters are occurring between people who know each other or have some tacit knowledge of their killer(s). What I continue to agonize over as Chief are those truly innocent third party victims who can be in the wrong place, at the wrong time, and get killed by a motorist operating a vehicle recklessly or by a stray bullet that can hit a passerby, someone asleep in their home or a child reading a book while visiting grandma.
One note of consolation in the midst of an admittedly “heavy” blog is our Dane County Victim/Witness Unit. They are literally a “Godsend” to us and they respond whenever and wherever needed to support and assist families and friends who are reeling due to unexpected circumstances. I cannot say enough about the good work done by this invaluable group of dedicated workers so I will simply say, “Thank you” and “God bless you” for stepping in and stepping up when all of us need you the most!
Finally, I will conclude this installment with a photo montage of all of our victims through 7/27/17. Please remember them ALL and make an affirmative gesture to reach out to their family and friends in the weeks and months to come to remind them that their loved one is gone but not forgotten.
This post was originally published on July 27, 2017 on Chief Koval’s blog.