In 2016, behaviors associated with the area known as 'Top of State' (the 100 blk of State St and the surrounding area) generated many calls for service, negatively impacted quality of life for area business owners, patrons, and citizens, and resulted in a significant allocation of police resources. Behaviors included fights, drug dealing, prostitution, drinking in public, urinating and defecating in public, and damage to property.
When I became Central District commander, one of my first discussions with my team was about Top of State, and how frustrating the issue was--for the community and the officers involved. Unfortunately, despite all of the attention, resources, and quality of life impacts, the issues have not been effectively addressed.
Throughout the first part of 2017, as CPD personnel have visited with business owners and residents, and met with community and stakeholder groups, I heard time and again of the impact of problems associated with Top of State last year, and concerns that 2017 will see a repeat of 2016. Unfortunately, as the weather has warmed we have seen an uptick in those behaviors which so negatively impacted the area last year. Recent incidents include one subject pepper spraying two others who were involved in a fight and another disturbance involving an individual armed with a knife who, fortunately, was taken into custody without incident.
Core problems of homelessness, poverty, and mental illness are societal level issues that must be addressed; behavioral issues of fighting, urinating in public, prostitution, and drug use (among many others) are behaviors which should not and will not be tolerated.
MPD CPD is working with our community partners in government and the private sector--Porchlight, Catholic Charities, Off the Square Club, DMI, other City agencies, and others--to get closer to the roots of these pernicious problems and improve the experience at top of State for everyone. Our goal is to address behaviors while simultaneously providing resources to help solve some of the underlying issues.
Our approach addresses four areas which broadly but directly impact the issues at top of State for 2017:
Outreach: getting resources to those who need and want them; this is ongoing and MPD is committed to connecting people with the help they need--mental health counseling, medical assistance, or housing assistance. Importantly, many of the individuals generating problem behaviors at Top of State are not homeless and further, some individuals (regardless of housing status) do not desire resources.
Education: When it comes to behavior, MPD's goal is compliance, not enforcement. Upon beginning our plan, there will be an educational period of 10 days during which officers will focus on education and warnings for certain behaviors. To that end, CPD has created a pamphlet that is rich in information about available resources and also notes conduct and behaviors that are not acceptable. This pamphlet is being distributed to numerous social service providers as well as those individuals who frequent the Top of State. As with our outreach component, our officers have provided ongoing education to persons in this area over many months.
Environment: Changing the physical environment of a space can have an immense impact (positive or negative) on the use of that space. Entities outside of MPD are working on activating the space in more positive ways; MPD is supportive of creative ways of using the space. We will be working with Mall Maintenance to work on removing 'hidden areas' and other spots that are out of view. Temporary signs that highlight available resources as well as the code of conduct (as in the pamphlet) will be posted. We are working with downtown businesses on getting additional no trespassing signs in appropriate areas. Finally, we continue to assess the environment for options to improve the space.
Enforcement: As always, MPD will focus on behaviors and as a district, our goal is to consistently enforce those behavioral violations that have been identified as primary safety and quality of life issues at the Top of State. Following the end of our 10 day educational period, consistent enforcement will be expected from my team. Resources will always be offered to those who are cited or physically arrested.
As comprehensive as our plan is, we know there are no perfect or easy solutions. We will continue to assess our efforts and make adjustments. Importantly, CPD's efforts are in collaboration with governmental and private partners and we continue to meet and work regularly with others committed to positive change.
I cannot guarantee outcomes; however, CPD is committed to creatively engaging with our partners and making top of State a safer, healthier, and positively activated space. Ultimately, MPD shares the goal of advocates and citizens in Madison to get resources--housing, medical care, mental health care--to citizens in need, and I was very proud to publish a blog on 4/6 highlighting some of this important work. Also, it was Central's year to nominate charities for the MPPOA/AMPS to fund through their yearly golf outing. Central personnel were solicited for their choices and almost all focused on providing housing and other resources to those in need. The membership ultimately voted and Housing Initiatives was the selected charity!
Finally, I would be remiss if I did not thank my CPD team for their efforts in addressing this problem and coming up with a diverse, multi-layered approach. A plan is only as good as the people who carry it out, and I am proud of the skill, diligence, and humanity of my officers and fully confident in their commitment to the people of our community.