For the fifth year in a row, the Mifflin Street Block Party hit a record high in the number of arrests Saturday. According to preliminary numbers from the Madison Police Department, arrests climbed roughly 10 percent from last year despite a similar number of attendees.
Initial reports from the MPD indicate about 400 arrests at the 10,000-person party Saturday, the majority of which pertained to alcohol-related issues like open alcohol containers on the sidewalk or street. The numbers represent a trend of increased arrests and decreased attendance in the block party’s recent history.
Between 5,000 and 10,000 people attended the party in 2002, but police made only two arrests. That number increased to seven arrests in 2003, and then ballooned to 190 arrests in 2004, 225 arrests in 2005, 263 arrests in 2006 and 366 last year. Police estimates for attendance, meanwhile, have trended downward since 2003.
According to MPD Public Information Officer Joel DeSpain, at least 34 were arrested for underage drinking and at least five were cited for carrying glass containers.
DeSpain said there were no major fights or incidents during the block party, though a couple parties were shut down for excessive noise, a few porches were cleared for overcrowding and a couple people were taken to detox.
But for Ald. Mike Verveer, whose District 4 includes West Mifflin Street, the block party has gotten to a “clearly broken” point in its history, given there were no major disturbances during the event, yet MPD still hit a record number in arrests.
“I’m not blaming the cops. I’m just saying that their pro-arrest zero-tolerance policy of heavy enforcement of all laws makes it seem as if this party is absolutely out of control, which it is not,” he said.
According to Verveer, Madison and MPD officials have started to acknowledge the need for a more organized Mifflin event. He suggested the possibility of arranging a sponsorship to make the party similar to Freakfest, the name the city has given for its rebranding of the annual Halloween festivities on State Street in 2006 and 2007.
“I support closing the street if that’s what it takes, but I don’t support charging admissions,” he added.
Verveer said with a more organized event police would be more relaxed about giving tickets out, and students could have live bands and even obtain permits to buy and sell alcoholic beverages on the streets.
With the majority of the more than 400 arrested attendees receiving tickets for carrying open intoxicants, the sponsorship could save MPD a lot of work and partygoers a lot of money, Verveer added.
According to DeSpain, police cameras set up along Mifflin Street worked well as an extra manner of watching for safety concerns. The police enforcement of noise was not too much of a damper on the all-day party, though at least one party was shut down after receiving a warning, he added.
Forty-year Madison resident Rosemary Lee, a familiar face around the city, was present at the block party, reminding attendees with open alcohol containers to get off the sidewalk.
“Oh, I think it’s wonderful. It doesn’t seem as crowded as some years,” Lee said.
Joel Plant, a close advisor to Mayor Dave Cieslewicz, said Saturday the party was going well as usual, and people were generally behaving fine.
“This event has waxed and waned over the years,” Plant said. “It would be nice if there was an entity that would come out and dig a permit for this and have a real legitimate event. But until we have that, we’ll continue to handle this event this way.”
Check out a slideshow of images from this year’s block party.