This year’s Mifflin Street Block Party is sounding less and less like a party.
City officials say there now will be no food vendors at the party to facilitate policing and lessen the draw after violence and excessive drinking at last year’s event brought calls for an end to the 42-year tradition.
Among those not showing up this year will be UW-Madison Police, whose officers assisted in some past years at the annual drinkfest marking the end of the school year for UW-Madison students.
Meanwhile, the president of Madison’s police union is questioning why city officials are allowing the party to go on at all after last year’s event turned especially ugly with two stabbings, three sexual assaults and three officers injured. It cost the city $130,000 for police coverage.
Those costs will go up this year, as Madison police make up for the 22 officers UW police provided last year and increase staffing, including additional detectives and investigators to be on hand in the event of serious crimes such as last year’s stabbings.
“Is this really the most responsible thing to be doing?” asked Officer Dan Frei, president of the Madison Professional Police Officers Association. “We had a year last year when the city was looking at cutting services. At some point, I’m envisioning the mayor coming back and saying we all have to tighten our belts.”
Frei also expressed concern for officer safety at the event.
Mayor Paul Soglin said though his first reaction was to put an end to the block party after last year’s event, “we are going to have well over 10,000 people coming down to Mifflin Street regardless of the plan.”
The question is, “How do we control it?” Soglin said. “We are eliminating food. We are making it clear that there will be arrests for drinking in public places. There will be arrests for underage drinking.”
There also be will be no live entertainment and no alcohol sold on the street, as there was last year.
The city will still provide portable toilets because of public health concerns, said Mark Woulf, Madison’s alcohol policy coordinator.
Also this year, offenders will be taken to a processing center in the City-County Building, instead of being cited and released on Mifflin Street. That’s partly because the 30 Dane County Sheriff’s deputies who will be helping police cannot issue city ordinance violations, said Madison Lt. Dave McCaw.
Plans also call for keeping streets open to traffic if possible, McCaw said.
Police are reaching out to Mifflin Street landlords to let them know about options such as installing temporary fencing and no-trespassing signs, which some property owners have done in the past, he said.
Madison Police Chief Noble Wray called for the block party to be downsized and eventually ended.
“That’s my goal precisely,” Soglin said, “to keep downsizing it every year to get to the point where there will be no block party.”
UW-Madison Police Chief Susan Riseling said her department told Madison police in March 2011 that it would no longer assist with the Mifflin Street Block Party or the Freakfest Halloween celebration on State Street to focus its resources on campus events. It agreed to help with Mifflin last year because police were just coming off of dealing with the massive protests at the state Capitol, she said.
But Riseling said university officials also made it clear they want to see the block party ended and went to Soglin last summer to ask how to make that happen.
“We don’t see it as a safe event for our students,” Riseling said, adding, “I think the city police are grappling with a very difficult situation.”
Riseling said she believes Madison police have enough resources to adequately staff the block party, but UW police would provide officers to assist if formally requested.
Ald. Mike Verveer, whose 4th District includes Mifflin Street, said after years of working with students and Mifflin Street residents prior to the block party, he believes the event got too big for the two residential blocks where it takes place.
“In a perfect world, I wish it would go away,” said Verveer, who would like to see the party move to a more appropriate location, such as on campus or in a park.
“I’ve been concerned for many, many years,” he said. “There’s just way too many people.”