To address both crime and perceptions of decreasing safety downtown, the Madison Police Department released plans Tuesday to increase its visibility on State Street and nearby neighborhoods. Utilizing $100,000 earmarked in the city's 2007 budget, the police will target violent street crime, particularly on weekends around bar time. "It will increase public confidence in the safety of downtown," said Mayor Dave Cieslewicz.
The new program includes more foot, bicycle, motorcycle and mounted patrols and a targeted surveillance camera system available to officers via WiFi. The MPD also plans on expanding its community-policing program in downtown neighborhoods, including an effort to reduce the number of house parties.
The plans were announced by the mayor, Police Chief Noble Wray and Capt. Mary Schauf at a lunchtime press conference on Tuesday, Jan. 23, at the mayor's office. The three main objectives of the new initiative are:
- Reduce violent street crimes in the downtown, particularly between 11 p.m. and 3 a.m. on weekend nights.
- Expand community policing programs in the downtown by providing more access to officers and hosting community meetings.
- Improve voluntary compliance with alcohol-related ordinances in bars and among students who might otherwise host illegal house parties. This effort includes training programs, increasing targeted check-ups, and boosting the tracking and prosecution of repeat offenders.
City officials estimate that $70,000 of the $100,000 initiative will be spent on police overtime.
A press release issued by the mayor and police department is available in the related downloads at the right, as is a document detailing more specifics of this Downtown Safety Initiative.
"Our goal is to have a more visible presence," said Wray. "We're looking at things like expanding the mounted patrol, expanding the foot patrol, and bike patrol. Anything we can do to increase our visibility, that's what we will try to do."
The chief noted that the string of muggings last summer were one reason for the new program. Added the mayor: "This is designed to make sure we don't have another recurrence of that, especially during the summer months."
The new initiative includes greater use of surveillance cameras downtown. The city currently owns two cameras, which were used earlier on King Street and during the Halloween festivities, and is likely to purchase two more. "We're looking for something that's flexible," said Capt. Schauf, to allow officers to monitor events in real time on their squad-car computers.
"We won't place them until we have a chance to look at our data and see what we need," Schauf explained. It's likely that they will be placed along the State Street and University Avenue corridors near the concentration of taverns. All footage will be recorded and archived per current department policy.
Should pedestrians in the downtown now assume that they are being filmed? "You probably are already on somebody's camera," said Schauf. "The cameras are already there, it's just a matter of whose footage this is. We think this gives us a powerful tool to monitor in real time and respond quickly."
Should the Common Council pass this proposal quickly, Schauf said people can expect to "see extra feet on the street" no later than April.
"We already have one of the safest downtowns in America," said the mayor, "and we need to make sure that continues to be vibrant, safe and healthy for everyone. I think this program goes a long way towards doing that."