Madison Police Department reports indicated a rise in the amount of violence surrounding the 600 block of University Avenue from late spring of this year to mid-September.
According to Madison Police Chief Mike Koval’s blog, these incidences were related to batteries, disturbances and large group fights, most of which were alcohol related, between North Lake Street and West Gilman Street, as well as between State Street and University Avenue.
Central Police District Captain Jason Freedman said MPD recognized very early in the year that this would be a problematic area, and expressed that it has lived up to that expectation.
Ald. Mike Verveer, District 4, said areas that these problems occurred were near bars such as Blue Velvet, State Street Brats, the Red Shed, Wando’s, the Double-U, Liquid and the Church Key during weekend nights.
Freedman said alcohol and the amount of bars in the dense areas are the two biggest problems that these areas face and why there is such potential for violent instances.
“A lot of intoxicated people late at night or into the morning can create problems,” Freedman said.
Verveer referenced fights that occurred three Saturdays in a row on Sept. 9, Sept. 19 and Sept. 23. According to Koval’s report of Sept. 23, more than 200 people engaged in a fight on the 600 block of University Avenue. Police officers responded and deployed pepper spray to end the fight.
To combat the increase of violence within these areas, MPD has enforced a multitude of strategies, Freedman said.
“We recognize there is not a single solution to these issues downtown,” Freedman said. “They have existed for many years.”
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In partnership with the Alcohol License Review Committee, MPD opposed any increase in capacity by any bar or establishment in the downtown areas, Freedman said. ALRC is also speaking with new restaurants to regulate the type of alcohol they serve and when they serve it.
Moreover, the taxi stand that sat in the heart of the 600 block of University Avenue was moved to West Gilman Street, Freedman said, to decongest the location as it is a very pedestrian dense area. This was also done with the late night vendors who own food trucks in the area.
The city and MPD are also working to improve lighting on the 600 block of University Avenue, Freedman said.
“I consider these to be a lot of small victories, but it’s a work in progress” Freedman said.
MPD has dedicated extra officers to work the 500 and 600 blocks of University Avenue and State Street during weekend nights. In previous years, Freedman said, there were eight to ten officers staffed at these locations during the summer. Now, there are roughly 12 to 14 officers working, and they have longer shifts.
The heavy police presence did improve the state of the area, Verveer said, but this summer there’s been a run of bad luck.
“We realize we have to be extra vigilant with this trend of increasing violence in the spring and summer,” Verveer said.
MPD asked the bars in the area to improve their video surveillance systems, especially outside the front doors to better identify suspects, Verveer said. MPD would also like an efficient I.D. scanning technology that would identify customers who have been restricted from certain bars in the area.
The bars did tighten their procedures, Verveer said, and put up signage indicating police surveillance.
Owner of Wando’s bar, Jay Wando, said this was the safest summer Wando’s had ever experienced.
ALRC met with bars from this area on Oct. 12 to discuss further solution to this issue, Verveer said.
“The City Council warned the bars that if things didn’t improve, the city would take action,” Verveer said.