RACINE — In 1991, Racine’s violent crime rate was among the highest in the state — even Milwaukee’s rate was lower, according to Wisconsin Department of Justice Assistance data.

That is no longer the case.

“Due to the crack epidemic and related migration of gang members from Chicago in the late 1980s and early 1990s, local crime trends often mirrored crime in Milwaukee and Chicago,” Racine Police Chief Art Howell explained. “(Violent crime) in Racine has dropped to record lows each of the past six years, while this has not been the case in neighboring major cities.”

Reports of violent crime fell by 17 percent within the Racine Police Department’s jurisdiction between 2017 and 2018, according to new statistics reported to the FBI and the Wisconsin Department of Justice.

The total number of arrests carried out by the RPD rose from 2,336 to 2,492 during that same time frame, a 6.2% increase, while the combined total of reported violent and property offenses fell from 2,289 to 2,116, a 7.6% decrease.

Arrests for property crimes — theft, vandalism and fraud — rose by 13% last year, while the total number of reported property crimes fell by 5%. Burglaries continued to become less common with only 351 reported incidents last year, less than half of 2015’s total.

Reports of arson in the city have grown from only six in 2014 to 16 in 2018; five arson arrests were made by the RPD in 2018.

Howell said that the positive shifts can be largely attributed to the department’s “two-pronged approach when it comes to crime reduction,” as well as the improved technology available to law enforcement.

Long-term change

“In the 1960s, police officers didn’t even have radios. They’d have to go to a police call box to radio something in,” Howell said. “Now, the officers can talk to each other with radio and we have computers in the squad cars … technology has really assisted law enforcement.”

Even 40 years ago, Howell said, it would sometimes take weeks to identify patterns in crimes, such as a series of shots-fired incidents or robberies. Police would do this through placing physical pins in maps, hoping to identify patterns or clusters that could lead to identifying suspects and catching a culprit.

“Now, we have a computer database that will show us in real time if there is an emerging trend,” Howell said. “Advances in tech have really changed how policing is done.”

The 10%

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The first prong of the department’s approach is targeting past lawbreakers.

“10% of the criminals are responsible for 60% of the crime. We’re most successful when we target that 10%,” Howell said. “Anyone who has presented a threat to public safety is tracked … all the way through the criminal justice process.”

Focusing on those suspected or convicted of burglary has paid great dividends, according to Howell, who became chief in 2012.

In 1974 alone, there were 2,617 burglaries reported. As recently as 1992 there were more than 1,900 in a year. Howell said that the city had averaged more than 1,000 burglaries yearly between 2008 and 2013. In 2018, only 351 burglaries were reported.

Howell said two other things, besides improved tracking of suspected burglars, have contributed to the severe reduction in burglaries.

  • Introducing the Northeastern Wisconsin Pawn Shop Reporting System, where certain items purchased by pawn shops are logged into a database, making it easier to find stolen items that a thief ended up selling.
  • Connecting police commanders and local judges to raise awareness regarding the rising threat of home invasions.

Connecting and relating

The other prong of the RPD’s crime-reduction efforts is relationships.

That starts with the city’s six Community Oriented Policing Houses, aka COP Houses. Howell said that the presence of a COP House on Anthony Lane (formerly Jacato Drive), as well as collaborations with other city departments, has played a major role in reducing crime on Racine’s northwest side.

“The key there is, you can’t develop relationships at the time of a crime. You have to have trust and equity already built, and the way you do that is through our programs.”

The department also is planning on partnering with the Dr. John Bryant Community Center for summer youth programming, as well as introducing some social-media initiatives to make it easier for residents to connect with law enforcement. Through all that, Howell said, he hopes that strengthened community relationships will bring about more efficient and effective police responses, leading to an overall reduction in law-breaking communitywide.

“We’re excited about the support we have locally. They don’t often get enough attention, but the community has been very supportive in terms of using Crime Stoppers (to make anonymous tips),” Howell said. “We get phenomenal support from the community on active crime … We’re often notified in real time.”

“(Violent crime) in Racine has dropped to record lows each of the past six years, while this has not been the case in neighboring major cities.” Racine Police Chief Art Howell

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