Digging Deeper: Madison police partner with bars to tackle crime - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

Digging Deeper: Madison police partner with bars to tackle crime downtown

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MADISON (WKOW) -- Madison police have a new way to tackle crime in a trouble spot downtown.

In the first half of 2017, officers saw a significant increase in substantial batteries happening in the 600 block of University Avenue. It's a stretch where hundreds of people gather at bar time and fights inevitably break out. 

"I've been on this block for nine years and I'm used to the spike in violence," said Armando Acosta, general manager of Churchkey Bar, which is on that block. "This year was by far the worst I've ever seen."

Community Police Officer Chad Crose says police responded to 17 batteries from January to June and nine of those were substantial, where someone lost consciousness, lost teeth or had to get stitches. That's up from the same time frame in previous years, where incidents averaged 10 batteries and two substantial batteries. 

Madison Police Department data shows from 2014 to 2017, there has been a 70 percent in batteries and a more than 500 percent increase in felony batteries. 

MPD is targeting the 600 block because of the density of bars there that could release up to 15-hundred people into the streets at bar time, if they're all at capacity.

"A lot of it has to do with just the sheer volume we're starting to see in the downtown area," Officer Crose told 27 News. "When  you have large numbers of people and you add alcohol to that, there's going to be issues no matter what."

The issues prompted the Central Police District to start a new partnership with bar owners. Officers hosted a meeting in June with bar leaders to talk about the problems and possible solutions. Now, each bar in the 600 block and a few others nearby have an assigned officer liaison.

Officer Crose is Churchkey's liaison. He stops by at least once a week to check in with Acosta and see how things are going. They both say they've learned from the experience and made some changes. 

Many of the bars have put up signs indicating the bars are under surveillance and MPD could get involved if needed. They've also posted codes of conduct to be clear about expectations for customers. Other changes include additional lighting in the streets and better management of crowds outside the bars by adding barricades to separate bar lines from people passing and moving the taxi stand away from the block to keep people from lingering in the area. 

Statistics in the past two months show the new effort is already making progress.

"We are back to what we would have been probably two to three years ago," Crose told 27 News. "We're not perfect, but we're taking steps in the right direction."

It's a first step starting with bars, but one they're hoping could spread throughout downtown.

"I would love for this whole block, this whole community, to get on that same page where we share communication openly, " Armando said.

Common Council President Mike Verveer tells 27 News he and the bar owners have supported the MPD effort. The city is also taking other steps to manage crowds, by adding surveillance cameras and putting up no parking signs in the 600 block of University Avenue. They're also working on a proposal to move food carts out of the area.

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