Fighting Crime With Jello

Madison is experiencing a record number of shots-fired incidents. City streets and parking lots are littered with shell casings. The Madison City Council is responding with almost a quarter million dollars of poorly targeted programs that will likely do nothing to stem the violence.

This week the council voted to spend $225,000 on a bunch of programs intended to increase public safety. I’m skeptical that any of them will do much good. Now, in fairness, some of that money will go to support victims of crime and some of it will go to support families in need, which are good things to do on their own, but I don’t see how they will stop the shooting.

And then there is spending that is just hard to get your head around. According to a story in the Wisconsin State Journal, here’s an example of one of those programs:

“Community Agency Bridging the Gap: Up to $10,000 for crisis intervention services while also building resident leadership, engaging in connecting residents to resources, and improving cultural responsiveness and supporting the cultural identity of community members.”

The Madison City Council plan to reduce crime will hold up as well as Jello. Photo by cottonbro on

That all sounds vaguely okay, I guess, but what exactly does, “improving cultural responsiveness and supporting the cultural identity of community members,” mean and how does it relate to reducing violent crime?

I can’t help but feel that the council would have been smarter to invest that $225,000 in police overtime to increase patrols in parts of the city where the bullets are flying. Over the past four decades, Madison has used “blue blanket” approaches to good effect. Believe it or not, the block of Main Street between Pinckney Street and Webster Street was one of those cop saturation areas in the late 1970’s. Now the biggest crime committed there is what the bars charge for a glass of wine.

In addition to putting more cops where they’re needed, another effective strategy might be to take the bad guys off the street. Many of the shots are being fired by men (they are almost all young men) with criminal records. Some of these guys are violating conditions of parole or wanted for things like bail jumping. So, it would make sense to start strictly enforcing these things and taking these guys out of the community for awhile.

But neither of these things will happen because they are anathema to the hard-left politics of the council — and, to be fair, to the dominant politics in the community right now. To just be honest about it, everything is about race. So, while locking up parole violators would probably effect more white guys, it would also probably disproportionately impact men of color. My own view is that, if it means less gun fire on our streets and especially streets in the most diverse neighborhoods, that’s okay. My view is also heresy on the left.

And, of course, the hard-left wants to defund the police, not spend more on police overtime. So, instead, the council will spend money on fuzzy, ill-defined programs with spotty track records and results that cannot be measured.

For those of you who are cheering my get tough attitude, let me now give you something to get your hackles up. What I’m proposing are short-run solutions to just stem the out-of-control violence. There are other things we should do that conservatives won’t like at all.

First, we need to raise the minimum wage. Real wages for young men fell by 20% in the closing decades of the twentieth century and they haven’t recovered. I’m not saying that, on an individual basis, it’s okay to turn to crime; personal responsibility matters. But we need to make work pay. We need to be able to provide hope for a better future through hard work. If all young men see is a dead end, they lose hope and life on the street starts to look pretty good.

Second, there are just too damn many guns out there, more than one for every man, woman, child in America. We need more background checks, red flag law, bans on semi-automatic weapons and an aggressive program to buy back guns and get them off the streets. Anything we can do to make it harder to get a gun is a good thing to do.

Third, we need to focus on the problems and needs of young men of all races between the ages of 15 and 25. That demographic commits the bulk of violent crimes. So, while I’m skeptical of feel good programs like the Focussed Interruption Coalition (if it were working why are we seeing this big uptick in violence?), I think things like good jobs, schooling and sports can direct the energies of young men in positive directions.

Finally, a word on the politics of this. I make no apologies for being a moderate Democrat. I think the Democrats have a decent chance of holding onto Congress in the mid-terms, which would be an amazing accomplishment. Their two major challenges right now are immigration and crime — the gun play in Madison is part of a national epdemic. If the Democratic answer to crime is going to be the kind of Jello produced by the Madison City Council, well, can you say “Speaker McCarthy?”


Published by dave cieslewicz

Madison/Upper Peninsula based writer. Mayor of Madison, WI from 2003 to 2011.

One thought on “Fighting Crime With Jello

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