By Kevin Binversie | Wisconsin Reporter
The Wednesday morning attack on Montee Ball, a star running back for the University of Wisconsin Badgers football team, is just the latest in a string of increasingly violent attacks in the Madison downtown area.
But most Madison bureaucrats will tell you their city doesn’t have a crime problem.
Talk to residents and they’ll tell you the streets surrounding the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus are more like a sprawling frat-house kegger than a community.
The anecdotal is supported by the statistical. The downtown area led the city in reported burglaries and robberies for 2008 and 2009, the more recent reports available for the city of Madison.
And then there are the news reports. In May, three people were injured in a shooting outside a different University Avenue bar during graduation weekend. In July, fights broke out in a crowd near Wando’s bar on University Avenue, prompting police to use pepper spray to break it up and disperse the crowd. That’s when Madison police increased their weekend presence in the area.
“Our department’s Downtown Safety Initiative that has been going on for a number of years has had a large role in determining department resources,” said Howard Payne, a public information officer with the Madison Police Department. “By having a focus on the entertainment district, we can alleviate assault and batteries and be more attuned about precautionary steps to increase crime prevention.”
The Downtown Safety Initiative allows Madison police to shift resources to the city’s central district, including the downtown area, and focusing on the party hours between 11 p.m. and 3 a.m. It was created in 2007 by former Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz.
Despite high-profile cases like the Ball attack and May’s shooting, Payne said the program has pushed down the number of fights downtown. The Madison Police Department has not yet released updated crime statistics to back up this claim. But Payne said there’s no substitute for citizen vigilance.
“Overall awareness of their surroundings by citizens is a vital key to that success,” he said. “Increasing the level of public awareness has helped immensely. That’s not just knowing where they are, but also watching their own level of sobriety so they can provide better information to aid an investigation.
“An inebriated witness or victim is not going to help aid us in an investigation,” said Payne.
But what is Madison as a whole doing?
Oftentimes you’ll hear the city cite its ranking on the annual list of “Most Livable Cities in the U.S” (Current rank: 17th). For all of its telltale nuttiness — from naked bike rides to the Capitol chaos of 2011 — Madison also possesses a picturesque side.
But the increasingly frequent media reports of downtown violence are a threat to that kinder, gentler Madison. If it cannot get both an understanding of and control of the situation, it could begin to tatter at the city’s reputation faster than anything.
Statistically, as a whole Madison might not have a crime problem, but it has one noticeably large problem area, and it needs to come to grips with it beyond just the police doing their job. The community must also do their part as well.
Veteran political blogger Kevin Binversie is a Wisconsin native. He served in the George W. Bush administration from 2007-2009, worked at the Heritage Foundation and has worked on numerous state Republican campaigns, most recently as research director for Ron Johnson for Senate. Contact him at email@example.com.