Mark Twain said there are lies, damned lies and statistics. Statistics can both enlighten and mislead. For example, Madison has more crime than ever, but in fact we're much safer than we were 30 years ago.
In February, the Madison Police Department released its 2008 crime statistics. After dropping 14% in 2007, violent crime rebounded by 5.9%. One subset, aggravated assault, was up 11.4%.
These figures are provided by the city to the FBI's Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program. The categories include homicide, rape, assault, robbery, burglary, larceny and stolen vehicles. The oldest numbers are from 1977.
Overall, year after year, the UCR numbers have inched upward.
But Madison has grown quite a bit. What if you plot crime against population growth over time? The Madison Police Department hasn't run the UCR numbers this way. But we did, using a little bit of high school math.
It's an eye-opening exercise.
In 1977, when the city's population stood at 171,220, there were 3.89 incidents of violent crime per 1,000 residents. In 2008, when the population was 226,650, there were 3.93. No news there. But look at these decreases:
- In 1977, there were .34 cases of forcible rape per 1,000 residents. In 2008, there were .22.
- In 1977, there were 2.81 instances of aggravated assault per 1,000 residents. In 2008, there were 2.04.
- In 1977, there were 69.6 incidents of property crime per 1,000 residents. By 2008, that had dropped to 36.4.
- Total URC offenses in 1977 were 73.5 per 1,000 residents. By 2008, that had dropped to 40.3.
That's a 45.1% drop in crime per 1,000 residents since 1977.
"Such analysis has been done at times in the past, but not for the purpose of explaining UCR data to the public," says police spokesman Joel DeSpain. He adds that Chief Noble Wray "really appreciates this analysis, because it gives the public a new perspective on where Madison is at in terms of safety, and crime."
But Wray warns that changing population is just one additional factor to consider; others include demographics and socioeconomics.
Voters get say on Garver plan
Madison's nascent arts incubator got a boost Feb. 26, when Gov. Jim Doyle announced $73,600 in "brownfield" grants to help revitalize the former Garver factory on Madison's east side, by Olbrich Park.
The money can be used for demolition, removal of abandoned tanks and containers and environmental assessments.
Common Wealth Development, a nonprofit community development corporation, wants to remake the historic Garver Feed Mill, 3244 Atwood Ave., into a haven for local artists. It is envisioned as a public space where visitors will mingle with artists in affordable studios.
After roughly a year and a half of planning, the project faces its final hurdle: an April 7 referendum to "convey" the building to Common Wealth to develop it as an arts incubator.
"I'm never one to count votes before they're cast, but I'm optimistic," says Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz. He notes that the referendum, though required, is just a formality.
"The reason we have to go to referendum is not because of funding the project - Common Wealth Development will pay the $15.4 million cost - but because development of the site triggers our shoreline preservation ordinance," he says. The ordinance, passed in 1992, requires public approval of certain parks projects.
Common Wealth executive director Marianne Morton is also hopeful: "The Garver Arts Incubator will bring new life to this historic building and create an exciting public facility that will spur economic development, support the success of working artists and offer educational and cultural opportunities for the public."
The incubator would include 40 art studios, a three-story atrium, indoor/outdoor cafe, gift shop and rooftop garden. Visitors can take classes, attend performances or view a gallery. The remodeled building would be certified as environmentally friendly.
Karin Wolf of the Madison Arts Commission says surveys of area artists have shown "an overwhelming need for affordable studio, rehearsal and performance space."
The proposal is similar to the Torpedo Factory Art Center in Alexandria, Va., which attracts 500,000 visitors annually. Cieslewicz calls it "a great project to both preserve a historic building and use the space to enrich our community."
Middleton schools seek $67 million shot in arm
The Middleton-Cross Plains Area School District wants voters to authorize $67.4 million for construction and operating funds in three referenda on the April 7 ballot.
If approved, the requests to borrow money and exceed revenue limits would enhance security, allow construction of additions and a new elementary school, and provide annual operating funds.
It's a huge amount. By comparison, voters in the much larger Madison school district in 2005 approved a referendum for a record $26.2 million, while refusing requests on the same ballot for $7.4 and $14.5 million.
Middleton school officials say the money is urgently needed.
"Our buildings are just bursting at the seams," says district spokeswoman Michelle Larson. "We need it. We need the space."
Eight of the district's elementary and middle schools are over capacity. And, says Larsen, the way things are now, "not everyone can get access to the music room this week, so we've got music on a cart, or science on a cart. The kids have access to the computer lab for 40 minutes a week. That's it."
Larson says the poor economy actually favors the referenda: "Our borrowing costs are the lowest they've been in...ever. We can likely do this more inexpensively than any other time, and we can put local carpenters, electricians, plumbers and other trades people to work. So building now actually makes sense."
The referendum language (www.mcpasd. k12.wi.us/referendum) wasn't finalized until the last week in January. "We haven't heard of or seen any organized 'no' group," says Larson. "There is a pretty active 'yes' group getting out canvassing, distributing signs, etc."
County executive candidate Nancy Mistele has a way with words. She announced March 3 that we need to "increase investment in the Dane County Convention and Visitors Bureau."
It's maybe not a bad idea - except there is no Dane County Convention and Visitors Bureau. There is, however, a Madison Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Similarly, on Feb. 23, Mistele complained of funding commuter rail with a "$45 sales tax hike." The exciting news that we could build a railroad for the cost of dinner and a show was premature, and soon corrected. She meant "$45 million."
And in a press release this week, Mistele said the county's new 911 dispatch policy is "supposed to error on the side of caution." To error is human....
How landlords rate
Ald. Eli Judge, Dist. 8, is helping put together a website that will allow UW-Madison students to rate campus-area housing.
"Right now tenants, especially students, are unaware of or simply lack adequate information when it comes to selecting a place to live," says Judge.
Last week, the UW's Associated Students of Madison approved $9,000 for development of the website, which will be similar to an existing site that allows students to rate their professors.