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Mayor, businesses concerned about downtown violence

Published On: Dec 24 2013 04:19:55 AM CST
Updated On: Sep 04 2013 07:53:52 PM CDT

Once the temperature started rising, so did the number of people hanging out right outside of Jack Sosnowski’s restaurants.  He said the city should have dealt with the issues much earlier in the season.

“I get a lot of questions from people out of town coming through asking why it's there, what's it all about, what's being done about it,” Sosnowski explained, “and unfortunately, I don't have answers for them because nothing is being done at this point.”

The owner of Ivory Room, Capital Tap Haus, and Buck and Badger, Sosnowski has noticed police pick up their presence a little bit, but he’s still concerned.  He said while the congregation of people – homeless or otherwise – has been a problem in summers past, this is the biggest group he’s ever seen.

“They're kind of hidden a little bit.  They know exactly what they can get away with, and they definitely take advantage of that,” Sosnowski said.

Sosnowski added he’s witnessed more yelling, fighting, and public intoxication outside of his businesses on the 100 block of State Street.  He feared the situation could already be pushing customers away, and that’s if the situation doesn’t get worse.

“I don't want it to come to that.  I think it needs to be, nip it in the bud before we see something horrible happen,” Sosnowski said.

Mayor Paul Soglin announced his capital budget proposal Tuesday, including a more than $2.9 million investment to improve police infrastructure.  The same day, he addressed the Common Council with his concerns over the 100 block of West Mifflin Street, saying there are “dangerous dynamics” at work.

Soglin told council violence, drug trafficking, and public health are all problems in that area that needed to be addressed.  He said the city is looking at how to change the way they look at that space, but even fixing that will simply push the problem to other areas.

“Changing the space is not going to solve the problem,” Soglin said.  “It may solve it in that one particular block, but it is not going to solve it for a city or for a larger community.”

Frederick “Chile” Burton is a self-proclaimed mayor for his homeless community, even though he said not all of the people congregating in that area are homeless.  Burton said with shelters shutting down during summer days, there are few other places to go. 

“What are we supposed to do?” Burton asked.  “We can't go to the shelter until 7:30.  At the same time, they have to come down here.  They come down here where they feel comfortable at.”

In addition, Burton said the officers now patrolling the area are harassing those hanging out in that area more than they are harassing others.

“Where do we get a break at?  We don't get a break.  We're getting really harassed,” Burton said.

Madison Police Captain Carl Goede also spoke to council and said the department has fielded 430 calls and made 213 arrests this year alone in the vicinity of the 100 block of West Mifflin.  Goede said the lack of positive foot traffic in those closed-off areas and alleyways make it a place conducive to the behavior they are seeing there.

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