Mayor, stakeholders say downtown safety improving - WQOW TV: Eau Claire, WI NEWS18 News, Weather, and Sports

Mayor, stakeholders say downtown safety improving after violent episodes


MADISON (WKOW) -- Madison city officials and downtown stakeholders say safety in the city's entertainment district has improved, after concerns earlier this year over a shooting into a bar-time crowd and other violence led to the assignment of more police officer patrols and other measures.

"I think we've seen a change in direction," Mayor Paul Soglin tells 27 News.

The May shooting in the 600 block of University Avenue took place in front of two popular nightclubs, and left three people wounded, when shots rang out into a crowd of more than one hundred. Authorities arrested and charged suspects, and say the shooting's motive was a settling of old scores, some involving drugs.

In August, on a nearby block of University Avenue, again at bar time, Badger football star Montee Ball was attacked by five persons. Three people have been arrested and charged in what authorities say was a targeted assault, possibly in retaliation for a previous fight involving football players at a downtown house party.

In response to the May incident, Soglin increased funds for the downtown safety initiative, putting extra patrol officers on downtown streets during high-traffic, weekend nights.

Soglin acknowledges the May violence took place near clubs with an increasingly, ethnically diverse clientele, pointing out downtown's cabaret district was becoming more of a destination of choice, after bars with urban appeal closed on the downtown's periphery.

Downtown alder person Scott Resnick tells 27 News part of the increase in downtown, night-time safety is tied to the fall's return of the college population.

"Students are essentially reclaiming this as what's going to be acceptable inside and outside of establishments," Resnick says.

Volunteers with the community group, Mentoring Positives, spent five weekends in the high-traffic blocks of University Avenue and other hot spots in the entertainment district, offering resource information on food pantries, job programs and other services.

Organizer Will Green tells 27 News the atmosphere is improving, but there is an undercurrent of culture clash still be addressed.

"We've got two different worlds for African Americans, this is not the typical African American place to come down here, music-wise," Green says. "Just their background, where they come from, so that's a difference. So there's a bridge we're going to have to kind of mend."

The return of more of a student culture in the downtown entertainment district still leaves issues with binge drinking, and its potential to spark violence, as 27 News witnessed first hand during a ride-a-long with the Madison Police Department's central district community policing team on a Friday night. 

"(It's an) Alcohol-fueled Disneyland," says team leader, Sgt. Tony Fiore.

Fiore and the two officers of his team visited campus-area house parties, in addition to checking nearly a dozen downtown bars for underage drinkers, capacity, over serving and other safety matters.

Team members typically tried to defuse potential problems with warnings about violations, rather than enforcement, although some people were ticketed for offenses such as carrying open alcohol containers.

Fiore used his police twitter account to send tweets to more than 1,300 followers throughout the evening, to provide notice of the team's intention to visit a bar and check its compliance with verifying customer ID's, and other laws.

At Segredo, a nightclub near the scene of the May shooting, Fiore talked with staff members and checked operations on a night of electronic music. Staff members refused to allow the 27 News crew to accompany Fiore inside. When 27 News contacted Segredo owner Michael Hierl to request comment on the shooting and safety in the downtown entertainment district, Hierl declined comment, citing what he called past, media mischaracterizations of his club.

Both Fiore and Soglin say downtown venues with liquor licenses have generally complied with statutes, and operators have tried to help in the effort to keep the entertainment district safe.

President Sachi Komai of the Greater State Street Business Association owns retail store Anthology. Komai says she uses exterior store lights to discourage night-time vandalism and other problems. Komai says there was a perception of decreased safety in downtown Madison even during daylight hours in the immediate aftermath of the May shooting, but tells 27 News that perception did not linger, and retail business volume does not appear affected by safety considerations.

"It's not just law enforcement's presence in the five hundred block of State Street or the six hundred block of University," Soglin tells 27 News of recent safety efforts. "It's also what we do in the neighborhoods."

Green's Mentoring Positives group is a staple in several. challenged Madison neighborhoods. Green says his group's downtown outreach was one step in a collaborative approach to improving neighborhood and downtown safety. 

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