To look at recent press releases from the Madison Police Department, you'd think the city was experiencing an outbreak of miscellaneous sex offenses, as the department describes them. Lewd and lascivious behavior, exposure, invasions of privacy, and public nudity, are all over town during the last week or so.
"My guess is that it is warm weather," says Joel DeSpain, the department's new civilian public information officer and a former reporter for WISC (Channel 3). Of course, there's much more to it than that, he explains.
This seeming string of miscellaneous sex offenses started last Wednesday, June 13, when police responded to reports of a man masturbating in James Madison Park. As officers approached to detain the man -- Michael Gerald Pullum, who has a long history of trouble with the law -- he subsequently led six of them on a chase that stopped traffic on East Gorham Street and continued into Lake Mendota before he was apprehended 100 yards off the shoreline with the assistance of UW emergency services.
The department's official release on this incident was issued the next morning. Only a few hours later, DeSpain put out another release about a man who was seen attempting to take cell-phone pictures up women's skirts at an east-side Wal-Mart. This was followed on Friday, June 15, with a release about a man who was driving around parking lots near East Towne Mall, masturbating while "nonchalantly" asking women for directions.
On Monday (today), there were a pair of new releases: one noted the arrest of a man for masturbating in front of an open garage door in the Langdon neighborhood, while the other offered details on a suspect who was seen walking around sans pants in the Tenney neighborhood last Wednesday.
What's going on? Are there really more such incidents than before or is Joel DeSpain just highlighting them more often?
"It was brought up at a detective briefing that there's been a lot of lewd and lascivious conduct in the last few weeks," says DeSpain, who joins a daily teleconference of detectives from all five of the MPD's districts, where they discuss events around the city and look for common trends. "When I'm in these detective briefings, I'm trying to listen to what they're saying and pick up on these trends."
As the result of these discussions, where the general consensus was that these events are "somewhat weather-related," DeSpain decided to highlight the arrest of Pullum. "That incident at James Madison Park was pretty brash, and a lot of people saw that guy," he says, explaining the incidents reported Monday were discussed by detectives that morning. "When people are in public, they have an expectation of being left alone and not being bothered by people doing things like that. So I think it is of some interest to people."
DeSpain adds that the department has an interest in identifying suspects in these cases. "There are concerns that people who do this might escalate," he says, "so there's an interest in finding these people and getting them to stop this kind of behavior."
But while DeSpain will continue to highlight items that come up at the daily detectives' meetings, he thinks the subject may have run its course. "My guess is that I'm probably not going to issue too many more."