Arrests were up and the crowd size was down at the Mifflin Street Block Party on Saturday, compared to the revelry last year. In their final release at 9:15 p.m., the Madison Police Department reported a total of 366 arrests, with nearly every person cited for a city alcohol ordinance violation and subsequently released. By comparison, some 265 persons were arrested at the party in 2006.
The size of the crowd, though, was smaller through the entire day. At its height around 3:30 p.m., police estimated some 10,000 revelers filled the 400 and 500 blocks of Mifflin Street, along with intersecting roads and back alleys. Last year, about 15,000 people joined in the party.
Though the cooler morning temperatures and generally overcast conditions through the day may have contributed to the lower numbers, it may also be that the party is decreasing in relevance, not to mention notoriety.
Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz surveyed the scene from the intersection of Mifflin and Bassett streets -- the heart of the party -- around 5:30 p.m. as it was starting to die down. "People look like they're having a good time, and it doesn't seem like there's much tension," he said.
In fact, Cieslewicz was getting ready to leave, having satisfied his interest in surveying a Madison tradition known for its riotous past, events fueled originally by politics and later by booze. "It's not just the same kind of intense situation that we have for Halloween, which is a very good thing," he says. "I always come down in the afternoon, take a lap around, stop in at the police command station, and then head home."
The crowds were thick but hardly impenetrable, as seen in a video clip -- as well as in a photo gallery at right -- shot during the party's height at the intersection in front of the old co-op:
Accompanying the mayor was Joel Plant, the city's alcohol policy coordinator (a.k.a. "Czar"), who agreed that the party was "good spirited." What about the drinking? "The police out here are taking enforcement action when necessary," he said, as "the city is trying to encourage responsible drinking practices and environments."
The most serious criminal activity at past Mifflin Street Block Parties, though, is sexual assault, something that's intrinsically tied to alcohol use in these kinds of environments. "It' s difficult for police to stop it because it happens outside of their view," says Plant, noting that most are committed inside the houses and in their back yards. "Given the amount of alcohol being consumed, it's something we're keenly aware of," he continues. "It comes down to group and individual responsibility."