Soon after gunfire erupted outside the Childhood Learning Center on Allied Drive last October, a staffer saw a man carrying a long-barreled revolver cutting across the center's property. Police believe he'd been involved in a shoot-out with a passing motorist.
About 80 children were put on lockdown until police determined the threat had passed. Several bullet casings were found in the area. A bullet had entered an apartment where five children were staying.
None of the staffers, who are employed by Madison Metropolitan School District, would speak with Isthmus about the incident, fearing retaliation. But Luis Yudice, a former Madison assistant police chief who now heads security for Madison schools, says incidents involving guns at school are rare. The last report of a student bringing a gun to school was in 2005.
Gunplay is more of an after-school activity.
"There have been a number of shooting incidents recently throughout the city," says Yudice. "We recognize that when firearms are used by young people in the community, the potential exists for those conflicts to follow into the schools. Our administrators do an excellent job responding to conflicts that could lead to violence."
Last summer, a patrol officer observed three young men at a Milwaukee Street residence, one aiming what appeared to be a gun. Moments later, a tactical SWAT team descended on the home and recovered a toy gun from the 11-year-old boys. Police say incidents involving toy guns are a growing problem.
"I can't tell you how many problems we've had with those, where we've had kids at school or in neighborhoods where they're playing with these weapons, usually in situations where they're trying to intimidate," says Madison Police Capt. Tom Snyder. "You can't tell six feet away what's real and what's not."
George Chavez, Madison's only gang detective, says more gang members are brandishing fake guns.
"It's one of those things where they want show they're hard, so they'll take pictures of themselves with them," says Chavez. "They may not be real, but sooner or later you're going to run up on someone with one, and that's going to create problems in itself."