Coming back to school, many students partake in Madison’s vast bar scene, even if they’re not of age.
For many students, it’s hard to miss the amount of police on the streets of Madison during prime party nights.
And while many think it is because of the sudden increase in students on campus, Ald. Mike Verveer, District 4, said its purpose is violence prevention.
“The police have had issues over the years in [the 600 University Ave.] area,” Verveer said. “Some have been the concern of weapons being involved, and recently the cops have seen an increase these incidents, which is a big concern for the cops.”
Verveer credits updates to the 2007 Downtown Safety Initiative as the reason for the increased police presence, as there are now more officers on each night. To be exact, the DSI has 12 to 15 extra officers Friday and Saturday nights, while the Violence Reduction Initiative has an extra four to five officers on Thursday nights, Madison Police Department Captain of Police Jason Freedman said.
Over the past summer, Verveer said MPD has noticed a spike in fights around the 600 block of State Street in 2017, mainly from State Street Brats to the Red Shed and Churchkey.
“Unfortunately, what the cops have noticed towards the later half of this summer is that there have been more cases of violence in this area. The police have especially seen more incidents on Thursday nights, similar to that of a Friday or Saturday night,” Verveer said. “The recent violence is at the point that the cops have decided to use overtime funds to have extra police working on Thursday nights in the hours from 11 p.m. to 3 a.m.”
Verveer said the incidents are typically between people who know each other and have had long-standing disputes. The incidents tend to spill onto the street and cause major disruptions.
According to MPD data collected in 2017, weapons violations increased by 48 cases in relation to the year before, while assault offenses spiked by 214 cases.
In addition to the two programs working to increase police presence, Freedman said MPD works with University of Wisconsin Police Department, as they are trying to use all resources possible for a safe climate.
“We work in partnership with UWPD, and try to give the area extra attention as an influx of new students and freshmen arrive for school,” Freedman said. “This is known as the first 45 days and is also in partnership with UW Dean’s Office.”
But Freedman said while it may seem as if there is a higher police presence during the beginning of the school year, MPD is always just as strict with the bar scene, especially underage drinking.
When dealing with under agers, Freedman said MPD takes them on a case-by-case basis, continuing to focus on circumstances with crimes of violence or significant disturbances. Freedman said MPD also partners with UW in cases of under age drinking when necessary.
“We do share information of under age drinking with UW. If we identify a problem address — a frat or a bar — that has a pattern of under age issues, we also will give that extra attention,” Freedman said.
Verveer stressed that the increased police presence in Madison is not currently for underage drinking, and the DSI was never meant for it.
The police that go into bars catching underagers and checking on capacity and safety will remain the same, Verveer said. Their purpose is to make sure people are following laws and are staying safe inside the bars, while the increased police presence is for keeping order on the streets.
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As for decreased customers in bars, Verveer said is not an issue or concern for many people in Madison. Verveer said when he speaks with bar managers, they are more concerned for the safety of customers.
However, in the times of decreases in customers, Freeman believes the bars and restaurants on State Street have proven to be extremely flexible.
“The bars have proved remarkably adaptable,” Freedman said. “Where they will see a real financial impact is if people stop believing the area is safe versus police enforcement of the rules.”
As for students on campus, Verveer advises they watch their surroundings and use common sense when it comes to drinking.
Freedman emphasized the importance of drinking responsibly while out in Madison, staying with friends and not taking drinks from strangers.
“Please drink responsibly, and if you are contacted by the police, be cooperative. Officers typically have discretion in whether or not to cite and how many citations to issue,” Freeman said. “Truthfulness, respect, and cooperation — or lack thereof — impact their discretionary decisions.”