The Beacon is a homeless day shelter and services provider that opened at 615 E Washington Ave on October 16, 2017. Since opening, the Beacon has generated excitement and provided services to hundreds of people every week. The opening of the Beacon has also generated a lot of calls for service and impacted the neighborhood and surrounds in which it resides
At recent community meetings and forums, I have heard a number of questions and concerns regarding the Beacon; with a community meeting scheduled for April 4 (5:30 PM at the Beacon), I thought now might be an opportune time to reflect on the Beacon from the perspective of Central Police District (CPD).
To begin, there are three over-arching factors to consider about the Beacon:
First, the Beacon helps to serve a very vulnerable and in-need population, and Madison needs places like the Beacon. As a law enforcement professional and a human being, I support the mission and intent of the Beacon.
Second, the Beacon's location was determined through a long and deliberate process that is concluded; regardless of how some may feel about the current location, it is not going anywhere--the challenge is to adapt to this new reality and mitigate the negative impacts while providing critically needed services.
Third, the population the Beacon serves is vulnerable and encumbered--homelessness, AODA issues, mental health challenges and etc.--and given the challenges this population faces, we should expect 1) calls for service inside the Beacon; 2) more calls for service in the area around the Beacon; and 3) greater pedestrian traffic in the area. These calls will predominantly be quality of life type calls--disorderly behavior, alcohol violations, trespassing, and noise. There will also be calls (albeit fewer in number) that are more impactful to safety--pedestrian safety, batteries, and other behaviors that area residents find disturbing and threatening. While I am very empathetic to the struggles and needs of this population, it is my job--and the job of my officers--to ensure that negative behaviors, particularly those that impact safety and quality of life, are addressed and people are held accountable for their actions. Citations and physical arrests will be employed as appropriate, but accountability does not automatically equal arrest.
I will not provide you a substantive update about services the Beacon is currently providing or other matters not related to interactions and partnership between MPD and the Beacon. Rather, I will highlight MPD's efforts at addressing the increased activity in and around the Beacon.
Let's start with a little history. Approximately one year ago, MPD began meeting with Beacon leadership to discuss a host of potential issues and concerns that might arise with the creation of an ambitious day-services provider. Immediately I was impressed with the earnestness and passion of Beacon staff, and their dedication to their mission. The Beacon gave MPD the opportunity to provide input across a spectrum of security/police related issues. Throughout the spring and summer of 2017, we met with the Beacon and provided advice on their policies and procedures concerning safety and quality of life related matters. While we may not have agreed on every point, I was (and remain) convinced that the Beacon was always willing to listen and discuss the salient issues. It was my belief that the focus of the Beacon was (and remains) providing services to those in need, and it is that laudable perspective which drives their decision-making
Since opening, there have been issues at the Beacon. But no one should be surprised about the challenges of working with such a vulnerable population. Significantly, there were 40 CFS to the Beacon in January (making it the second most responded to location in the City that month) and 45 CFS in February (making it the number one call generator for February). The volume of calls was unsustainable for my team and represented safety and security concerns for Beacon staff and their clientele whose ability to receive necessary services was negatively impacted.
MPD continued to meet with Beacon staff, as well as other stakeholders, to discuss concerns and adopt changes to address issues. While some progress was made, it became clear to all involved that more impactful changes needed consideration.
In late February, Lt Chaney-Austin and NRO Brown had an urgent meeting with the Beacon; from that meeting, a clear and transparent code of conduct policy was adopted by the Beacon, akin to what the Madison Public Library uses. The policy was effected on February 27. As of March 20, there have been 12 CFS, several of which represented follow-up by MPD--a significant reduction (thus far) over the previous two months. Some of these calls involved the Beacon requesting MPD to handle a small problem before it became larger. Importantly for me, my officers who respond to the Beacon agree that things are much improved. Further, as the 'culture of conduct' becomes the norm at the Beacon, I expect further overall reductions in calls.
I am now confident that given all of the new and improved systems and processes that the Beacon has implemented, that the volume and intensity of the problematic activity will curtail significantly. I am also confident that by reducing negative behaviors, not only will staff, clientele, and officers be safer, but it will also be easier to provide services to those most in need. However, should current processes not prove sufficient, MPD will continue to work collaboratively with the Beacon and others, as needed, to mitigate the problems.
However, given the inherent challenges of the clientele, we should be under no illusions that there will not continue to be calls in and around the Beacon. In fact, MPD expects that while inside the Beacon will remain a calmer, more productive space, we will see more issues and calls for service in areas around the Beacon including but not limited to nearby parks, public spaces, and even into private spaces.
Because of these expectations, CPD identified the area around the Beacon as a district priority for 2018. In order to mitigate concerning behaviors, CPD is using a number of different strategies. We have requested a problem solving initiative for the area (essentially a pool of overtime funds to allow us to provide extra patrol and enforcement in identified hotspots). We are examining alcohol sales and retailers in the area to see if we can identify practices that will reduce alcohol related issues. We provide extra routine patrol, and we continue to have our NRO be our lead for all Beacon related matters. We have worked with surrounding properties to post no-trespassing signs, consider lighting improvements, and examine other environmental changes that would foster safety and security.
As with many of the challenges we face, MPD cannot effectively address these problems alone. In addition to our ongoing relationship with the Beacon, we need YOU to assist us. Please call when you observe or experience an incident or issue--and your willingness to pursue a complaint is also important. We will provide additional resources, but knowing when and where to put those resources is determined often by calls for service and other data--if you don't call, it is much more difficult to identify where we need to be.
The Beacon represents a great opportunity for Madison and, more importantly, for those struggling in life. MPD fully supports the Beacon's mission. We also understand that great opportunities often come with great challenges. MPD is committed to working with the Beacon and others to address those challenges. While we may not eliminate deep societal problems, we can work together to provide necessary services while holding people accountable for their behaviors.
Central District Police Captain