I feel like the betrayed kid who beseeches his hero, Shoeless Joe Jackson, member of the 1919 Black Sox team that threw the World Series.
Madison Police Captain Joe Balles two years ago correctly attributed the spread of vagrancy in the State Street-Bassett Street area to Madison's "enabling attitude." [See the 4-17-08 Interview and the blog of 07-06-08]. Now Captain Joe sounds like the vacant-faced, monotone-speaking victim of a Progressive Dane re-education camp.
Captain Balles witnessed the Take Back the Land trespass of 2018-20 Turbot Drive Monday but made no arrests. [Blog 05-18-10]
"It is interesting to see that breaking and entry is now a spectator sport," housing provider Duane Steinhauer told Blaska's Blog.
Your faithful blogger rattled the cages at Madison Police and got three captains on the line to respond: Captain Vic Wahl, Captain Jay Lengfeld of the West Precinct, and Captain Joe Balles of the South precinct.
We'll start with Captain Joe:
On May 20, 2010, at 4:11 PM, Balles, Joe wrote:
A larger problem for the community to address in all of this is simply the increasing number of foreclosed upon and vacant properties in our neighborhoods across Madison as well as other communities in Dane County. Simply put, vacant properties, be them single family residences, duplexes, or multi unit dwellings are a public safety issue. Anyone who lives near a vacant property should be keeping an eye on that property, and reporting any suspicious behavior to 911.
The underlying cause, however, to this issue is really not a police problem, but more of a collective failure with our realtors and banks failing to locate prospective buyers, and fund new owners for these properties. The duplex on Turbot Drive had dropped to $159,000. It will probably be sold at less than that. There are also additional vacant duplexes in that immediate area. Not good.
We do not support the tactics of the Take Back the Land group. However, their demonstration on Monday was effective in at least raising community awareness around the increasing number of vacant properties we have here in Madison. Prior to their march from Leopold Park to Turbot Drive, I had no idea where the group was heading. Like you and the rest of the Madison media, I simply followed because I thought the South District police captain should at least have an idea what property they were targeting, and see first-hand what they were intending to do when they got there.
Once we arrived at the property they had selected, and seeing the For Sale sign on the property, I made contact with a manager at First Weber reality and within a few minutes learned the Federal government technically owned the property, and receivership was in the hands of Freddie Mac. The nearest representative for Freddie Mac was in Plano, TX. To First Weber's credit, they were able to contact their representative, and by shortly after 6pm on Monday night I had the information we needed to post the property with No Trespassing signs. While we knew the property was vacant on Monday afternoon, we technically did not have a complainant to enforce trespassing.
There are some cities across the United States, (Indio, CA for one), where they have experienced so many foreclosed and vacant properties that local ordinances have been adopted requiring financial institutions to register vacant property with the local municipality. We do not have anything like that in place here in Madison at this time. Should we? I'm not sure and that's not my job, but I think Take Back the Land has certainly given us pause to a least consider and think about such strategies. If we did have such an ordinance, we could also require a letter be on file with the police department to enforce trespassing laws, and require the property be properly posted for trespassing. like the majority of Wisconsin's privately owned hunting land in this State.
In the long run, Dave, we need take our local, vacant property back from the Federal government and the Bank of America's, Citi Group's, the Wells Fargo's, etc. Our financial institutions here in Madison need be underwriting local property investments. Our community banks and credit unions need to make mortgages and loans to local folks. Our local realtors need to move these vacant properties, our local skilled trade industries need to be contracted with to get many of these properties fixed up and restored, and in the end we will have these vacant properties owned and occupied by responsible people who want to contribute to and invest in their neighborhood.
If a few protestors on a Monday afternoon caused us to think a little more comprehensively about a growing problem (vacant properties), so be it. I know one thing. If we can get many of the vacant single family homes and rental properties restored, fixed up and occupied by responsible families and tenants, our neighborhoods will be a lot safer and a lot better off.
Captain Balles on the phone, surrounded by Madison police and a city building inspector.
I responded late Thursday:
I am flabbergasted by your response. Without calling Plano or anyone else you knew that the Take Back the Land people did not have authority to enter the premises. They admitted as much. It was the reason the TV people would not follow them into the dwelling, because it was trespassing. THEY knew that but you didn't?
The practical effect of your policy is that everyone, including owners who occupy their dwellings, must post "No Trespassing" signs, lest they find strangers dipping into the liquor cabinet. The practical effect of your policy is that "squatters" can have free rein while our Police Department decides to tie itself into precious little knots in order to trace the property title. The practical effect of your policy is to encourage crack houses and dens of prostitution. "Not staying long officer; get back to me when you track down the deed history."
You say that Take Back the Land was effective in raising community awareness about the number of vacant properties in Madison. Really? The punked housing market hasn't made the news? The number of foreclosures, depressed prices, collapse of the housing market, lower city assessments ... none of this has been reported?
What Take Back the Land/Operation Welcome Home proposes will further enable the entitlement mentality that you spoke so eloquently about on State Street.
You say the realtors and the banks have failed. You use that word several times. So now ... what? ... They must be punished? It could be argued that they have succeeded. The system is correcting itself; foreclosures are how the market corrects past excesses. In any event, that is none of your concern! Your job is to enforce the law!
One way you can tell if someone has broken the law is if the locks on the dwelling have been forced, jimmied, broken etc. That pretty much tells you that whoever is there is not supposed to be there, does it not?
You may think you do not support the tactics of Take Back the Land. But you enable those tactics.
In fact, I am beginning to suspect that Take Back the Land somehow hacked your e-mail account and inserted its own propaganda into your response.
"We need take our local, vacant property back from the Federal government and the Bank of America's, (etc.) ..."
Z! Haukeness could not have said it better.
I agree with you on this one point and this one point, alone: "If we can get many of the vacant single family homes and rental properties restored, fixed up and occupied by responsible families and tenants our neighborhoods will be a lot safer and a lot better off."
Those would be the people who purchase or rent those dwellings, not squatters operating under the self-entitled something-for-nothing philosophy. Which, Captain Balles, is not that much different from the vagrants you used to deal with on State Street.
Really, Joe, you ought to run for Common Council on the Prog Dane ticket.
Jesus, Mary and Joseph!
Captain Jay Lengfeld
I posed this question to Madison Police after Monday's incident on Turbot Drive:
I rob a bank. You apprehend me. Can I escape arrest if I promise to return the money?
That the woman last week left (after squatting at a duplex on Tempe Drive) is itself admission she was there illegally, she knew she was there illegally, she did not have the permission of the owner of the property to be there. She may have chosen to get out but she chose to get in, too.
Otherwise, ... we're going to be playing this game all summer long. Special pleaders hold up banners, break into song, then break into the house, you tell them to leave, no arrests are made and a fun time was had by all. I'm buying stock in the company that makes "No Trespass" signs.
Captain Lengfeld responded:
If the bank does not want to press charges, you will not be arrested. This occurs every day, were a crime is committed, but people don't want to press charges. The reason this group will be doing this all summer long is because of the media coverage. Think about it, if they really wanted to live in these homes, would they really look for the media's attention. They want to deliver a message and have found a successful way.
Which makes a certain amount of sense. As a "former journalist," I remember a kid calling the newspaper promising to climb a high-voltage electric power line tower. Did we want to send a photographer? I responded, no can do but I'd be happy to write your obituary.
Still, I don't know how you tell the scribblers and the TV boys to stay away when you've got a group of adults going to defy the law.
The story has now become the police department's refusal to enforce the law in the face of such provocation.
Captain Vic Wahl
Madison Police Captain Wahl responded Thursday:
I think the main issue is not necessarily whether officers would have had probable cause to arrest or issue a citation (they may very well have ... ), but whether it would be appropriate under the circumstances. Officers exercise discretion every day, and issuing a citation with a $300+ fine to a homeless person may not be the best use of police & prosecution resources, particularly since they voluntarily left the premises (which is the objective).
Obviously a bank robbery is a felony crime involving violence that has a much bigger impact on the community and has a victim, so discretion is typically not exercised in these instances. However, many other crimes/ordinances are less serious and do not routinely result in enforcement action. I don't believe we've established a policy on these "squatter" cases, and I imagine officers will handle each one on a case-by-case basis.
And you are correct that the officers' decision is whether to make an arrest or issue a citation. The subsequent prosecution decisions are made by the City Attorney's office (for ordinance violations) or District Attorney's office (for most criminal offenses).
Madison's trespass ordinance 23.07 carries a fine of between $25 and $300.
Tell you what, Cap'n Wahl: make the pinch, let the advocates worry about the fine. Guarantee you'll save much more than $300 in police costs when the Take Back the Landers get the message that Madison is a society of laws. Meanwhile, you're sending the opposite message.
Housing providers, be pro-active
It may not be required, but it may expedite things. Police do honor something called a "No Authorization" letter. When signed by the property owner or real estate agent, it authorizes police to automatically enforce No Trespassing ordinances. The letter states that the owner or agent requests that all suspects be cited. After the letter is submitted, the Madison Police Department supplies the No Trespassing signs.
Or just print off the sign in front of the Stately Manor, reproduced above.