Following two shooting incidents in the past two days, one resulting in injury, on the heels of a general uptick in gun violence, Madison Mayor Paul Soglin is urging witnesses of crimes to report what they see, and laying out details of a pilot program to use trusted neighborhood residents to gather witness testimony.

“It’s very simple, witnesses and victims have to cooperate,” Soglin said during a press conference Wednesday. “They have to come forward in regards to these acts of violence and they must share with us for their protection and the protection of their community.”

Mayor Soglin called the press conference after shots were fired Monday around 4:30 pm on the city’s South side outside of the Bram Hill Townhouses on the corner of Bram and Beld streets. No one was injured, but just over 24 hours later one person was shot on Tuesday night on Madison’s East Side, sustaining non-life threatening injuries. The incidents aren’t believed to be related.

Mayor Soglin believes community cooperation with those investigating crimes will help identify those committing them and would discourage crime more than increasing police presence in areas where gun violence is taking place.

“With officers present the individuals who are firing will go elsewhere,” said Soglin.

The city has taken some proactive measures to thwart crime, according to Soglin, including community police, foot patrols, and more lighting.

“But there’s one element of safe communities and law enforcement that’s absolutely essential and that is witness to crime. Report it and answer officers questions,” said Soglin.

Many officers report non-cooperative witnesses in instances of violence, said Soglin, who frequently referenced three linked homicides that occurred last year as a an example of what happens when witnesses of crimes don’t report what they see.

“There were a significant number of people who knew and saw what was transpiring and would not share those details,” he said.

Withholding information from the police is considered obstruction of justice, but according to Mayor Soglin, District Attorney Ismael Ozanne is not willing to press charges.

“He does not believe charging people with obstruction from failing to provide information is going to be constructive and I’m willing to accept that,” said Soglin.

Soglin says some witnesses don’t cooperate because they’d like to take matters into their own hands.

“We’re told that they want to resolve this themselves,” said Soglin.

While the Mayor’s office is calling for community cooperation with law enforcement, they are also working on a pilot program that will allow law enforcement to work with trusted community members who can encourage witnesses to report crimes.

“One of the things we’re focused on is having individuals with credibility on the street who are not law enforcement having a, shall we say, post-investigative role in terms of talking to witnesses and victims to get the necessary information,” said Soglin.

The program will have two areas of focus, one being tending to the needs of individuals affected by violent crimes such as facilitating a funeral or relocating a family for safety. The second focus is support services for community members, known as a rapid response team, who can gain the trust of witnesses to increase cooperation.

This team will work with incidents involving gun violence and domestic violence, where victims are also less likely to report or cooperate.

These members, Soglin said, are people who are already doing work in the areas of reentry, housing, and employment, and some are formerly incarcerate themselves.

Alder Sheri Carter / Photo by Jordan Gaines
Alder Sheri Carter / Photo by Jordan Gaines

“The bottom line is that most of us know our neighborhood and our residents and the police officers are doing their job, but we can touch them at a whole different level,” said Alder Sheri Carter, who was also present at the press conference.

Though the structure of the program is not complete, some rapid response team members were present at the scene of Tuesday’s shooting where there were two people reluctant to cooperate with police, Soglin said. He did not want to say the result of their presence for fear of jeopardizing an ongoing investigation.

Mayor Soglin hopes to present the program to city council within the next two months requesting overall adoption of the program, an authorization of funds for rapid responses to needs such as funeral costs and housing reallocation, and a contractual financial relationship with the community members involved in the program.

The city hopes to be able to compensate those on the rapid response team for their work.

“We depend too much on volunteers and poorly paid people to deal with many of the community service demands in the country and I’d like for Madison to not be apart of that,” said Soglin.

“In the 20 years I’ve been Mayor the development of this program and its eventual implementation is one of the most satisfying and rewarding things I’ve ever seen,” said Soglin. “This is going to be virtually unlike anything we’ve ever done before.”

Written by Jordan Gaines

Jordan Gaines

Jordan Gaines is a cultural critic and Madison365 contributor.