Several citizens who had their possessions removed from city property near the Capitol Square Wednesday were able to reclaim their belongings.
According to an MPD statement filed Thursday, a large amount of items were found near the Veteran’s Museum including grocery bags, trash bags, alcohol, bed rolls, suitcases and cardboard boxes.
According to the statement, the items looked like they had been abandoned for days and some of them were wet. The statement said the police were not trying to deprive anyone of their belongings.
The confiscation of the property led to protests from a group of citizens Thursday, who demanded an apology from the Madison Police Department as well as their property be returned, according to the Wisconsin State Journal.
The statement said when the officers found the abandoned items Wednesday, they spent over an hour trying to find the owners, but were unsuccessful largely because none of the abandoned items had identification on them.
The police took the items to a city facility on Olin Street, according to the statement.
MPD spokesperson Joel DeSpain said people often have left belongings unattended on city property. He said the police department has spent time reminding people it is against a city ordinance to leave abandoned property.
According to the statement, Madison Police Chief Noble Wray said it is a “tough job” to manage public spaces, especially near the Capitol where a lot of items are frequently abandoned or left unattended.
“Post 9/11, you cannot leave things lying around,” DeSpain said. “People get suspicious, bomb squads get called out.”
The majority of the time people comply with the ordinance DeSpain said. If people do abandon items, they will be ticketed, and the items can be removed from city property, he said.
“I am certain there are homeless people who want to leave things in places when they go out and about, but they can’t,” he said. “They have been warned for months.”
Because none of the items MPD found had identification on them, the police took people on their word when they came to collect items, DeSpain said.
“Our job is to enforce the law, and we try to do so with concern for all people in the community,” DeSpain said. “Madison has proper services which make sure homeless people are okay.”
As of Friday afternoon, there still may be items that have not been collected, DeSpain said. However, people who left things and wanted to find them came by to collect things, he said.
When asked about the protests of around 25 people that had happened outside of the city council building, DeSpain said he was not sure what they were protesting and no protester had contacted him about the issue.
“It [the protest] couldn’t have been very big,” DeSpain said. “There are 25 people outside the city council building all the time.”
DeSpain said it is not up to the MPD to decide where homeless people’s items should be stored. There are ongoing discussions on the county and city level to meet the needs of homeless people, such as the county’s plans to open a day shelter for the homeless in the winter.
Katie Crawley, spokesperson for Mayor Paul Soglin, said the most recent proposal for the shelter is on East Washington Avenue, and the shelter should be open by winter.
Crawley said the city has no specific plans regarding storage facilities, but the day shelter will give homeless people a place to bring their belongings.