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Wednesday, March 4, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 12.0° F  Fair
The Daily
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Madison police prepare for Mifflin Street Block Party weekend
UW focuses on Revelry festival at Memorial Union and on Langdon Street
The MPD will have extra units out downtown in popular campus neighborhoods over the first weekend of May.
Credit:Meghan Chua

This is the first time in 18 years that Ald. Mike Verveer has not had an annual meeting in advance of the Mifflin Street Block Party, traditionally held the first Saturday in May.

Verveer, whose district includes the historic two blocks of West Mifflin Street at the party's center, says the Madison Police Department asked him not to hold the meeting.

"The overall strategy was more or less to just ignore the upcoming weekend from a public perspective, but yet be prepared in terms of police staffing," Verveer says.

Verveer says the police plan to be less visible than last year, but will still have extra units out downtown in popular campus neighborhoods around Mifflin and Langdon streets. Security cameras posted around downtown, including Mifflin Street, will also help cops keep an eye on the streets.

The annual gathering on West Mifflin Street began as an anti-Vietnam War protest in 1969, but as its political connections faded, the event increasingly centered on alcohol.

During the 2011 Mifflin Street Block Party, two people were stabbed, three sexual assaults were reported and three police officers were injured. The city amped up its efforts to curb future violence with a higher police presence and stricter policies for alcohol. In 2012, 438 people were arrested, largely for alcohol violations.

Last year, the city widely publicized its "no tolerance" approach to house party violations during the block party. Crowds were down from recent years and there were no significant incidents reported to police.

And there are signs it could be quiet again. Verveer says parking will not be restricted on Mifflin Street for the weekend. Moreover, no one has asked him what the rules are for performing music on private property, a question he says students ask "without fail." Rather, he says he has only heard from a few non-students, wondering what might be going on around the neighborhood.

"It's been extremely quiet," Verveer says. "The Mifflin tradition as you know it, I think, has definitely come to an end."

Verveer says past years have seen a shift from concentrated attendance on West Mifflin Street to house parties gatherings around the downtown and campus areas.

Mark Woulf, Madison's food and alcohol policy coordinator, says two years ago looked more like a football Saturday than a block party, with pockets of house parties stretching from Langdon Street toward the Spring Street area and Camp Randall Stadium.

Over the last few years, Woulf says Langdon Street, also home to the University of Wisconsin-Madison's fraternities and sororities, has been the busiest place in the city. Last year during the block party, Langdon experienced more foot traffic and police issued a greater number of citations.

Woulf says the Madison Police Department has become more active in contacting residents and landlords in the Langdon Street area to try to prevent safety issues and violations.

He says crowd concentration in the Mifflin area decreased after police reached out to remind landlords and tenants it is their responsibility to maintain control of anyone, including strangers or uninvited guests, on their property.

"Really when we lost control of the Mifflin Street Block Party is when it stopped becoming a student-based event and started becoming anyone from out of town thinking it was free-pass Saturday in Madison," Woulf says.

Looking to Saturday, Verveer says he expects there to be even fewer people on the West Mifflin Street blocks in question than last year.

But Woulf notes there are many unknowns about the crowd flow Saturday. He says the city's experience with Freakfest, its sponsored Halloween event downtown, suggests it takes about four years to change an event the size of Mifflin. But he hopes Revelry, the campus-based music and arts festival now in its second year, will encourage more students to be on campus where the event takes place. The second annual festival, held at Union South last year, moved to Langdon Street and the Memorial Union Terrace this year. It starts at noon on Saturday, May 3.

"The extent to which we can really bring back that student-based culture to that weekend, the better," Woulf says.

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