Community Against Violence: A model for preventive policing?

At this juncture, when business owners are expected to be the first responders to burglar alarms at their establishments, kudos to Madison Police Chief Noble Wray for establishing a Special Investigations Unit. Last July, Lt. Tom Woodmansee began working with MPD detectives and area nonprofit leaders to identify and put every available resource to bear on curtailing habitual, violent criminals. This model experiment didn’t focus on non-violent grass smokers to garner the best results; instead, the department compiled statistics, analyzed them, and then jumped in with its top 10 most violent offenders.

Lt. Woodmansee told IB, “The most convictions for one individual was 75, the least is 15. The gamut runs from homicide to multiple sexual assaults of children, to armed robberies, to stealing cars, to substantial batteries, to batteries on police officers, to weapons offenses, to drug dealings, to escape.”

So much for “three strikes and you’re out” judicial protection from repeat offenders, or effective prison rehab.

“MPD is not only giving these 10 people extra police attention,” Lt. Woodmansee said, “but with the assistance of our [nonprofit] partners, we are giving them resources to improve the quality of their lives, and basically the message is, ‘You’ve got a choice now that you might not have had otherwise.'”

Those resources and interventions are supported by United Way of Dane County and area nonprofits, including Madison Area Urban Ministry. Partner agencies hope to strengthen parolees’ ties to community by helping them situate themselves with family support and a workplace or educational opportunity. Lt. Woodmansee is guardedly optimistic about the early results.

For every charge actually filed, and every conviction not pleaded down or set aside in court, there historically have been significant police resources disproportionately diverted to this cluster of individuals who would not (or could not) conform to societal norms. By engaging rather than shunning paroled habitual offenders, the department is also trying to break itself of repeating the same cyclical behavior and expecting a different outcome. Re-arrest isn’t a deterrent to future criminal activity, so MPD is trying preventive policing.

The business community holds a stakeholder interest in the outcome; watch for IB’s one-year results report later this year.

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