The police force on the University of Wisconsin campus this semester has been taking more action to combat underage drinking and illegal behavior by students. The amount of underage drinking, fake identification and illegal possession tickets given out at the start of this school year more than doubled the amount during the kickoff of the 2011 academic year. While students have responded negatively to the increased police presence, the Madison Police Department is defending its actions, citing an escalation in crime in the downtown area creating a need for more patrol.
Police have been most prevalent in popular residential areas, where parties are likely to be held. MPD has also been policing the near-campus bar stretch along University Avenue since a shooting occurred in the area last year, according to MPD records obtained by The Badger Herald. College Court, North Randall Avenue and North Mills Street have also been under recent heavy police enforcement.
In recent years on the UW campus, the police force would generally hand out one or two tickets at each location where they shut down a party, according to the records. However, since the beginning of this school year, it has become increasingly common to see around 20 tickets given out at each party. On the higher end, there are some parties that have resulted in around 50 tickets being handed down, according to the records. These tickets ranged from underage drinking and possession, providing alcohol to underage students, possession of fake identifications and illegal drugs.
The reports show a steep increase in the number of tickets given out this year comparative to last school year. From Sept. 1 to Sept. 30, 2011, 194 tickets were given out for underage drinking, possession of illegal substances and obtaining fake identifications. This year during the exact same time period, there were 500 tickets given out for the same reasons, according to the reports.
In addition to handing out underage drinking tickets, police are now making homeowners responsible for underagers caught drinking on their properties. Of the 500 tickets given out in September, 219 of these were for providing alcohol to underage individuals or for encouraging underage drinking.
MPD spokesperson Joel DeSpain said the increase in ticketing and police presence is in response to increasing numbers of thefts, batteries and sexual assaults taking place both at parties and in public places.
“The police are not necessarily trying to crack down on underage drinking, but rather, large, out-of-control house parties where violence is occurring,” DeSpain said. “Small house gatherings are not likely to get busted, they only will be when there are large numbers of people spilling out into the street.”
However, many students believe the policing changes reaches further than that. Dozens of Badger fans received tickets or were ejected from Camp Randall during the 2012 football season. According to MPD records, there was an increase in tickets handed out on North Randall Avenue and Lathrop Street at parties before the football games.
UW sophomore Elizabeth Tzortzos said the crackdown has had an impact on the culture during Badger home games.
“The amount of gatherings around the stadium has declined this year because of police enforcement,” she said.
Students have also been kicked out of the stadium for obvious signs of intoxication or for moving to a student section area other than the one they were assigned. Student ticketholders ejected from the games received letters from UW Athletics reminding them that future incident could result in revocation of their season tickets.
The changes in game day culture have forced students to avoid certain areas and change up their standard pre-game routines.
Still, UW sophomore Leah Schaumberg said the main result of the increased police presence is just forcing students to find new places to celebrate their Badger pride.
”I have heard from numerous students that police intervention around certain areas such as College Court are causing students to find new places to party,” she said.
The impact extends further than game days, though.
UW sophomore Megan Spude said her football and general social experiences this year caused her to pause in deciding where to live next year. With the increase in police concentration near certain student residential areas, Spude said she crossed some locations off the list without even touring them.
“I purposely didn’t look in some certain residential areas because I knew that the police would intervene on a regular basis,” she said.
Still, Ald. Scott Resnick, District 8, said MPD’s goal is not to scare people away from certain areas, but instead to enforce a culture of compliance. He said MPD has been trying to work closely with students to demonstrate what kinds of activities will lead to police interference.
“A Twitter account has been released to notify when the police will be doing compliance checks on bars and also when they respond to house parties to show what kind of behavior will or will not attract officers,” he said. “The focus is to keep underage drinking in a safe and contained environment”.
Students can see the up-to-date whereabouts of the police and their activities by following @MPDCentralCPT on Twitter.
Resnick said the increase in police presence on State Street and University Avenue bar areas is likely a direct response to the shooting on the 600 block around bar time at the end of last school year.
DeSpain echoed Resnick’s reasoning, attributing the police activity to the shooting and also to a general shift in behavioral trends in the area.
”There has been threatening and intimidating behavior in bars and restaurants, as well as armed robberies and gang affiliations,” DeSpain said.
In 2007, the city launched its Downtown Safety Initiative as the first step in combating these types of violence in the area. The city allocated $100,000 for this public safety plan to place additional officers in the city on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. The officers were ordered to enhance district-wide policing efforts in street crimes and residential areas.