Thursday, May 2, 2013 - 6:15am
Alcohol-driven Costs and Violence Suggest Strategies
Public Health Madison and Dane County (PHMDC) announces the release of a report analyzing the outcomes of the Mifflin Street "party" over the last 3 years. The report's publication comes following the Madison Police Department's (MPD) announcement that it would be taking the same tough enforcement approach this year that it took in response to last year's Mifflin event.
The goal of the report was to gather and summarize information about the costs of the event and the range of serious problems emerging from the gathering. The report recognizes the event as a shared responsibility and views the participants as future leaders whose well being matters. Its recommendations are focused on the need to make downtown Madison a safe, healthy and fully vibrant place to live, learn, work and play.
The first block party took place in 1969 more as a street protest against the Vietnam War than as an actual party. Over the ensuing decades, it has devolved into an occasion for excessive all-day drinking which results in serious injuries and numerous police incidents ranging from theft to violence and sexual assaults. The annual event has presented city, police and University leaders with a set of social and financial challenges each time it happens. Various approaches have been implemented over the years.
Highlights of the report include:
• It is most effective and least costly to address college age alcohol misuse before the problems of crime and addiction occurs, underscoring the critical importance of screening and early interventions.
• It cost City of Madison tax payers $196,000 for law enforcement to keep the neighborhood safe during the event in 2012. These law enforcement actions included taking a no tolerance approach, not issuing any street use permits and posting no trespassing in backyards.
• The majority of individuals involved in police incidents were 21 year old white males. Males at the event were more likely than females to be involved in police incidents related to violent crimes and drug offenses. The connection between excess alcohol use and violence is well documented, e.g., battery, armed robbery, use of a dangerous weapon and multiple sexual assaults were all incidents occurring at the event.
A primary recommendation in the report calls for a coalition between UW Madison and the community to implement comprehensive interventions.
Another recommendation is having downtown alcohol establishments work with the City of Madison to develop a program to reward businesses making efforts for a positive impact on public health and safety, and penalize those establishments that exacerbate the problems.
Alcohol abuse and binge drinking are problems that go well beyond the confines of this event. Wisconsin ranks number one in the nation and Dane County ranks second in the state in excessive drinking. There is a strong cultural disposition in the state that not only tolerates and encourages excessive alcohol consumption but also equates it with entertainment and fun. This presents our state with a genuine and enormous challenge to deal with. The Mifflin Street event is only one local but significant and very costly manifestation of this challenge. According to Jenny Lujan, Public Health Nurse and a co-author of the report, "In a way, this event is like an outbreak of a disease. It has shown up every year causing harm in the neighborhood. This report attempts to analyze the symptoms and engage the community in new and ongoing discussions and activities for an effective treatment."
A community-driven effort is needed to focus on reducing the harm generated by these damaging and dangerous rites of passage and on helping to create a culture in which buying and consuming large amounts of alcohol is no longer the primary definition of having fun.
The Health Department issued the report because harm from excess alcohol use is a serious public health problem in Dane County. Gathering, analyzing and sharing public health data is one of the core functions of PHMDC, a function that informs and energizes the department's mission of maintaining healthy neighborhoods and communities in Dane County.
A copy of the report is available online at: www.publichealthmdc.com/documents/PoliceEncountersMifRpt.pdf.
Public Health - Madison & Dane County
- Jeff Golden, (608) 243-0302