Gun violence and police use of force in Madison increased sharply in 2020, according to a quarterly report released by acting Madison Chief of Police Victor Wahl to the Madison Common Council on Jan. 15.
The report, which covers crime data from October through December of 2020, states that Madison saw an “unprecedented level” of gun violence last year with 53 shots fired incidents during the fourth quarter alone — a 66 percent increase from the same quarter the previous year.
Interim Chief Wahl noted that 48 people were hit by gunfire in 2020, an 85 percent increase from 2019.
Gun violence peaked during July at the highest total since the department began tracking shots fired incidents. The 44 recorded shots fired in July marked a 214 percent increase from the previous year.
MPD also reported that car thefts were up 25 percent from last year, for a total of 141 last quarter, with Madison’s East and West districts seeing the highest increase.
Other crimes such as robberies, burglaries and heroin overdoses have decreased significantly from their 2019 levels according to the report.
During 2020, Black citizens made up approximately 49 percent of total arrests despite making up only 7 percent of Madison’s population, according to the Census Bureau's most recent estimates. White citizens, who make up 78 percent of the population, made up 47.4 percent of arrests in 2020.
Police use of force incidents for the quarter dropped by 26.5 percent from the same time last year; however, use of force spiked dramatically during quarters two and three when the MPD confronted demonstrators protesting police brutality.
MPD used force 355 times during the nights of civil unrest in quarters two and three. The most common type of force used was categorized as “specialty” and was reportedly used in 159 incidents, followed by pepper spray at 104.
Outside of the MPD’s response to these protests, officers reported using force in 327 incidents, meaning that the response to protests more than doubled the department’s use of force during 2020.
The report featured a special section for the force police used in the civil unrest, in order to “clearly distinguish force used during the unrest.”
Wahl states that Madison experienced “near-daily protest activity” from June to December of 2020, which prompted the MPD to staff a daily command post of officers “designated to assist with protest activity.” The specialized command post operated for more than 180 days, according to the report.
MPD’s actions on these nights are being reviewed by the Quattrone Center for Impartial Justice, a nonpartisan organization that aims to prevent errors in the criminal justice system, according to the report.
“This process is intended to identify factors that led to the undesirable outcome (like policy, training, culture) and make recommendations to improve them,” the report states.