Perception or reality can be the subject of much debate when it comes to crime statistics and police performance in any community.
In an effort to see where both stand, the city of Wauwatosa conducted a citizen survey and analyzed the Wauwatosa Police Department and came away with information that will be used to shape policies and procedures in the coming years.
Perceptions - citizen survey
In conducting the survey, the city sought to gain citizen feedback about important community issues about a large number of city services. The mailing of the survey went out to 3,000 randomly selected households in Wauwatosa Sept. 15. This story will focus on the results concerning crime and the police. In future articles other aspects of the study will be discussed.
A total of 564 completed surveys were returned, surpassing the goal of 400 surveys that the surveyor says are necessary for it to be "scientifically significant." A bottom line summation of the results said that "residents have a very positive perception of the city and that overall satisfaction with city services is much higher in Wauwatosa than other communities.
The results say that 89 percent of the citizens surveyed are satisfied with the "quality of police services." Of the 11 major categories that were surveyed, the police services rated a medium priority and ranked below such things as traffic, city maintenance and city communication, but above the quality of parks and fire services. The ranking does not indicate which aspects surveyed are not important, but simply ranked them, meaning that despite the ranking all could be important or unimportant.
In contrast, when asked if they had an "overall feeling of safety in the city," 72 percent said they were satisfied or very satisfied, which was below the national (74 percent) and regional (81 percent) averages. The region is defined as the North Central region, consisting of Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin.
Reality - police department analysis
The operations and data analysis report on the police department report results show "overall that the PD does an outstanding job," said Wauwatosa Police Lt. Brian Zalewski. An executive summary of the report states that "the department reflects a modern police agency that is professional, well-managed and responsive to the community needs."
The study was conducted by the Center for Public Safety Management and was commissioned to review the operations of the Wauwatosa Police Department. Although the analysis covered all aspects of the department's operations, the focus was on staffing, workload, community demographics and crime levels.
Crime rates in Wauwatosa were compiled from the period of 2005-2014 and were compared to state and national numbers. The study results show that Wauwatosa had a lower violent crime rate (per 100,000 citizens) in comparison to the state and the nation for all years other than 2006. But it also shows that the city has a consistently and substantially higher property crime rate compared to the state and national rates for all years.
Both city officials and the department were reluctant to say they knew specifically why the property crime in the city was higher, but a quick analysis of the weekly police report shows that a large amount of the weekly police incidents are retail thefts. City officials said that Wauwatosa has a large number of retail outlets and higher property crime rates often occur in other municipalities that have a larger than average number of shops.
The study uses a benchmark of incidents per 100,000 people; based on that, the violent crime rate in Wauwatosa in 2014 shows 159 incidents. This is in contrast to the state of Wisconsin at 279 and the nation at 357. In 2013, the numbers for violent crime were 125 (Wauwatosa), 269 (Wisconsin) and 362 (U.S.). The property crime numbers for 2014 were 3,232 incidents in Wauwatosa, 1,999 in Wisconsin and 2,464 nationally; and 3,452; 2,117 and 2,627 respectively in 2013.
Zalewski said an important metric the department uses to demonstrate its effectiveness is clearance rates. The study summation says that clearance rates measure how good the department is at investigating and solving crimes. Clearance rates are calculated by dividing the number of solved crimes by the total number of crimes during a given time period.
"Violent issues occur less in Tosa but when they do occur we are really good at capturing the bad guy," Zalewski said. "Not all of the crime can be prevented, but it is important when there is a crime for the police department to make arrests."
In 2014, the Wauwatosa Police Department had higher clearance rates than the nation and the state when it came to the violent crime categories of robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny and vehicle theft. There were not enough incidents for analysis in Wauwatosa in the categories of murder, manslaughter and rape. There were not any categories that were analyzed that showed Wauwatosa had a lower clearance rate than the state or the nation.
The study made dozens of recommendations to the department, including adding personnel, reassigning members of the existing staff and updating training procedures. In terms of crime, the study authors said the department should designate a member of the department to serve as a "crime analyst." The newly designated position would be tasked with identifying chronic problems, crime patterns and looking for areas of the city that could be determined to be crime "hot spots."
Despite the feedback received by the department, Zalewski was quick to caution that any study does not tell the entire picture.
"You can quantify what happened. You can't quantify what we don't know about or what didn't happen," Zalewski said. "But mostly we receive positive feedback from the community."
The citizen survey showed that the biggest issue on the minds of Tosans is traffic flow and congestion. The Zoo Interchange and all of the other projects planned or currently being conducted in Wauwatosa cause many citizens to wonder about the overall plan. That will be the subject of the next story on this study.