Don’t blame the police for America’s societal breakdown.

Beloit Police Department command officials had a number of insightful and important responses to Staff Writer Austin Montgomery’s well-researched reporting on 2020’s rising gun violence.

At the top of the list is the worrisome fact that it could have been much worse. With shooting incidents up 157% from 2019 to 2020, Beloit was fortunate homicides declined from four to two. The only difference between someone being wounded or killed is poor aim.

Interim Police Chief Thomas Stigler noted that “a small percentage of the population here in Beloit perpetrates the vast majority of violent crime.” For people going about their business here day-to-day, Beloit is a safe city. And it’s an increasingly successful city, growing new jobs and improving urban amenities. Yet the city’s reputation beyond its borders continues to be vulnerable to the mayhem created by the few.

Patrol Division Capt. Andre Sayles added the obvious: “The majority of our job is responding to calls for service.” Try as they may, police anywhere can be only marginally successful at preventing the violent few from disrupting the peace. Prior to the pandemic, Beloit police had been actively expanding community engagement on a number of fronts, but coronavirus restrictions understandably limited that crucial element. The virus isn’t to blame for rising gun violence. Still, it has hampered outreach by law enforcement.

“The police are the community, and the community are the police. We’re no more than that,” Stigler said.

Let that one soak in. Nothing Stigler said, and nothing the department does, is more critical to public safety.

The easy thing to do, the lazy thing, is to criticize the cops when crime statistics are uncomfortable. Police play a crucial role and accept the challenge to do better. Crime in general, though, and gun violence in particular, is not a policing problem.

It’s a cancer on modern American culture. There’s nothing unique about Beloit’s experience. The streets of Beloit are no different than the streets of Rockford, or Milwaukee, or Chicago, or any other city. Too much anger. Too many guns. Too many drugs. Too many broken and dysfunctional families. Too much poverty. Too little hope.

Until conditions change, the police will stay busy “responding to calls.” Beloiters need to see the violence from that perspective. The community—indeed, the state and the nation—can’t consider these things in isolation. The culture should be the conversation.