There is nothing that piques the attention of a cop (and gets the heart racing) more than hearing an alert tone sounding across all of our communication channels followed by a dispatcher’s announcement of “shots fired.” Regrettably, this has become an all-too-familiar refrain for the City of Madison and a snapshot of the past few weeks is the basis for this blog.
On Thursday morning (10/6) there was a series of shots fired in the 5800 block of Russett Road, a densely populated area on the west side that is generally humming with activity at this time of day. Six shells casings were recovered. One of the operating theories in this particular incident is that two of the shots were fired to generate the expected police response; then another four rounds were shot when the officers were out of their cars canvassing the area. Preliminary forensic findings seem to suggest that the trajectory of the secondary “shots fired” were on line with/pointed toward one of our officers. Update: suspect has been arrested, handgun recovered and ballistic testing is being done.
On Friday at 1pm (10/7), dispatch received a call of a man down with a gunshot wound to the leg in the 2300 block of Allied Drive. Responding units confirmed that a man had been shot and rendered aid before the victim was transported to a local hospital. To give some sense of the scale of humanity that lives within a six block radius of this address, I was coordinating logistics with the Director of Security for the Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) as we had a suspect at large and did not want school buses brought into the area until a proper canvas had been conducted. Did you know that in this little slice of the west side, there are 34 schools that needed to be contacted as more than 470 students get dropped off in this area? Thankfully, the affected areas of interest were cleared with little/no disruption caused to the bus routes. But can you imagine how many kids could have been out and about on a beautiful day and this gunfire had erupted only a few hours later?!? Even if no one else had been hit, the vicarious trauma that might have been experienced cannot be denied.
On Monday night (10/10), a twenty-five year old man succumbed to wounds inflicted in a shooting that took place on 9/28. Many will recall that on that fateful Wednesday morning, there was a hail of gunfire unleashed in the 2700 block of McDivitt Road (which is in the Arbor Hills neighborhood of Madison’s southwest side). More than 25 shell casings were recovered and at least five other apartments/homes had rounds found in windows and doors. Given the proximity of the numerous apartments/homes, time of day, and the daily activities of people and cars coming and going, it is nothing short of a miracle that other, uninvolved parties, were not hit by errant rounds. Sadly, Madison has our seventh homicide of the year, a family lost their beloved son, and there are children left behind who will grow up without a dad. Update: suspect has been identified but remains at large.
“Shots fired” cannot be minimized, discounted or cited as outliers and anomalies. Everyone saw this phenomenon reach epic heights last year, particularly in the month of April. MPD responded with a coordinated and strategic plan in which our best intelligence efforts identified a number of potential suspects. While not all of these individuals could be tied directly to specific weapons offenses, given the fact that we had probable cause to arrest for “other” offenses (i.e., warrants, probation/parole holds, and unrelated crimes) we convened a 72-hour operation where every possible resource (gang officers, Violent Crime Unit, Burglary Crime Unit, all detectives, Community Police Teams, and Patrol) were summoned to find/arrest twelve people of interest. We found all but one (who was subsequently picked up in Chicago and extradited back to Madison). Typically, an agency committed to the precepts of community policing will use arrest only as a means of last resort; preferring to take the path of greater efficacy through relationship building, prevention and intervention—arrest/”suppression” being only a short-term proposition. Even after arrests are made, our next step in understanding that a brick-and-mortar solution is only temporary, is to focus on what “re-entry” strategies have to be considered as a means of keeping the peace. Creating a focused deterrence game plan. This collaborative pooling of resources and round-the-clock vigilance did have some short term effects–the daily occurrences of shots fired slowed considerably and our ensuing summer months were relatively quiet, confirming our suppositions about the people largely responsible for the citywide shootings.
Year-to-date, we are approaching 100 separate incidents of “shots fired.” (99 through 10/7). While no district has remained unscathed, three districts have been identified as accounting for the majority of the activity (East, South, and West). Remarkably, we have not seen an innocent third party killed as a result of this reckless behavior. But how long are we going to keep beating the odds… particularly as the most recent incidents have been brazenly occurring in the light of day?
In attending community forums throughout the City, the questions asked of me have an air of understandable urgency and fear: are these upticks due to gang violence/drug rips/ or an influx of migration from larger cities? All of these (and more) have been raised. Unfortunately, the only consistent theme that emerges through it all is that ongoing or festering conflicts are being resolved with guns, not words. While it may be true that the some culprits involved have ties to gangs (current or former members), that is not to say that this is a manifestation of some sort of informally declared gang “war” over something. Impulsive behavior, a lack of anger management skills, a street “code” that emphasizes not being “disrespected,” or “proving” one’s abilities, and ready-access to guns is a “perfect storm” for wreaking havoc on the psyche of an entire community. In essence, a quarter of a million people are being hijacked and co-opted into living mired in perceptions of fear owing to the antics of a relatively small group of individuals.
A basic tenet of community policing is that the cops cannot go it alone. We need the community’s help in trying to keep dangerous people from continuing to inflict harm(s) in our neighborhoods and on our way of life. Yes, the police can continue to conduct high visibility operations in problem areas and during times that our analysts identify as being susceptible based on previous activities. Our neighborhood officers, our gang officers, and patrol services continue to work with community members, apartment landlords and renters, homeowners, leaders in our communities and houses of worship, and businesses in trying to keep the lines of communication open with topical reporting of concerns and/or suspicious persons. We are constantly sharing information and partnering with our bordering agencies about people and issues of common interest. And we utilize technology wherever possible (i.e., camera footage obtained from public and private access ports) and collect forensics (i.e., shell casings) in most of these cases (all casings are submitted through a national database known as NIBN: National Integrated Ballistics Information Network). But NIBN has a significant backlog of cases and, ironically, since the majority of our cases have not resulted in people getting killed, our submissions must defer to the more compelling cases where there are homicide victims; so our abilities to link our cases of gun violence from one incident to the next are not going to be expedited. But shell casings can’t talk anyways… we rely on people for that!
So in spite of all of our best efforts, our greatest opportunity to prevent “shots fired” and to hold those responsible accountable for their actions, still hinges on good old-fashioned intelligence that originates from the community… “you.” Whenever we can get witnesses to step forward or even if we can get anonymous tips, we at least have some actionable intelligence that can be vetted and pursued through lawful means. But if no one will come forward (or if we all assume that it’s not “my” responsibility) then we are likely destined to see no end to this downward spiral of gun violence. For the good of our City, our neighborhoods, our families and our friends, help us to rid our community of this reckless behavior which threatens our very way of life!
This post was originally published on October 11, 2016 on Chief Koval’s blog.