Burlington is ranked as the eighth safest city in the state among municipalities with populations greater than 10,000. The ranking was determined by backgroundchecks.org

Mayor credits police, schools for achieving top-10 rank

By Jason Arndt

Editor

The City of Burlington ranks among the top 10 safest cities in Wisconsin after scoring a favorable safety index.

According to online database, backgroundchecks.org, the city’s 0.58 safety index was the eighth best of 81 cities surveyed.

Officials from the website said they took the most recent FBI crime statistics to create the rankings, filtering out cities with populations of less than 10,000, and in turn, calculating violent crime and property crime rates per 1,000 people.

“We also calculated the ratio of law enforcement to per 1,000,” the website states.

“These were weighted with -50 percent for the violent crime rate, -25 percent for the property crime rate, and +25 percent for the law enforcement rate.”

The final calculations gave the database a safety index score, with the highest as the safest, backgroundchecks.org states.

While Cedarburg received the highest score at 0.78, Monroe placed second with 0.76, with Grafton and New Berlin sharing third at a safety index of 0.68.

The City of Burlington, meanwhile, ranks behind Mequon (0.61), Muskego (0.6) and Middleton (0.59).

Jeannie Hefty

Mayor Jeannie Hefty, who praised the ranking, said finishing eighth is both an honor and testament to the community.

“Think of how many cities there are in the state. They looked at every city in the state, this isn’t just our region, but the whole state,” she said. “I am very honored and I know how much the community worked on this through the years.”

She credited the City of Burlington Police Department, community leaders as well as school administrators, both public and private, for helping the city achieve the honor.

Dedicated community

Hefty, in her first tenure as mayor from 1992-2000, remembered when the city was under the microscope during the 1998 murder plot at Burlington High School.

“In my previous tenure as mayor, we had a school threat at the high school,” she said. “This brought national and international exposure. Many networks did interviews. I also did a phone interview with BBC.”

Hefty recalled when she and other community members came together on the heels of the situation and formed a committee to work on finding a solution.

“(It) was a panel of law enforcement, school officials and high school students,” Hefty said.

Additionally, she was also member of the school district’s It Takes a Village Committee, which focused on alcohol and other drugs affecting the community.

The school district, she said, was one of the key organizations that lobbied for reinstating the Burlington Police Department K-9 unit.

“When I was elected in 2016, the school district contact me that we need the canine program back into the schools,” she said. “As I talked to the chief and the (Racine) County Sheriff’s Department, I agreed we need it back.”

The reinstatement, however, came with some budgetary setbacks because the city did not have funds allocated for the program in 2016.

Hefty and other officials reached out to the community to garner support for the program. It was brought back in 2017 with Tanner Kitlinger as the first handler for K9 Zander.

Since then, Zander has moved onto his third partner, patrol officer Eric Willms, but has seen recent success.

From July 1 through the end of August, Zander was deployed 21 times, with four resulting in arrests for narcotics or drug paraphernalia possessions.

“…Twenty of the deployments were vehicle walk-arounds which resulted in four narcotic and/or drug paraphernalia arrests,” Police Chief Mark Anderson said in late August. “The other deployment was a track and later arrest of a suspect who had fled on foot from a traffic stop.”

The most recent arrest came on the Burlington bypass, where Willms assisted a Racine County Sheriff’s deputy with a speeding motorist, and Zander detected drugs in the Franklin man’s vehicle.

The drugs included methamphetamine, cocaine and marijuana.

“Looking at the drugs he has taken off the street, I think both officer Willms and K9 Zander have done exemplary jobs together,” Anderson said.

School improvements

Hefty, meanwhile, said the city has bolstered its partnership with both public and private schools to improve safety and emergency responses to potential violence.

“As school shootings started a year and a half ago, we joined with the school district and private schools in forming a committee of making our schools safe,” she said. “Our emergency response team was also a key player in this committee.”

The committee, she said, helped area schools receive school safety grants from the state Department of Justice in 2018 to improve security.

The City of Racine, meanwhile, was ranked 80th of 81 cities listed in by backgroundchecks.org.

About Uniform Crime Reporting

Backgroundchecks.org did not specifically indicate what constitutes a violent crime or property crime in its ranking.

However, under Uniform Crime Reporting guidelines, the state Department of Justice considers aggravated assault, homicide, rape and robbery as violent crimes.

The state DOJ, however, cautions the data may not reflect all crimes committed within a jurisdiction.

Using UCR data, the state DOJ indicates the city saw an uptick in aggravated assaults, going from seven in 2017 to 13 last year.

The City of Burlington Police Department, however, reported in its 2018 annual report officers arrested 12 of 13 suspects in these cases.

Since 2014, according to the state DOJ, Burlington had its lowest reported aggravated assault cases in 2016 with just one.

Aside from aggravated assault, the city has seen either a minimal increase, considering population, or a decline in other crimes.

Overall, before the FBI changed the rape definition in 2017, the city went from one case in 2017 to two in 2018.

The city’s annual report, meanwhile, indicates both cases were cleared.

As for robbery, the city has seen a steady decline, going from two in both 2014 and 2015, followed by one in 2016 and 2017 before dropping to none last year.

Property crimes fall under reports of burglary, larceny theft, motor vehicle theft and arson.

Of the property crimes, the city saw its largest drop in larceny theft, going from 140 in 2017 to 92 last year for a 34 percent decrease.

Burglaries, which peaked at 22 in 2014, had steadily declined the next three years to 12 in 2017 before rising to 14 in 2018.

Meanwhile, motor vehicle thefts went from two in 2017 to three last year. But, the city arrested one of three suspects, the annual report showed.

There were two cases of arson in 2018 compared to none the previous year.

The City of Burlington reported in its 31-year study of UCR offenses released at the end of 2014 there have been no homicides since at least 1983 through 2018.