Michael McGreevy is no stranger to Mazo Beach or the illicit activity that happens around his favorite summer hangout. That said, McGreevy said the naturalists and others who frequent the nude beach aren’t the ones causing the problems.
“Just because we're down here without clothes on, we must be doing something worse,” McGreevy said.
The Department of Natural Resources said citations for illicit activity, public sexual acts, and drug use around the beach have remained constant, even a year after the department closed the park and the surrounding area during the week.
“Unfortunately, it hasn't had the effect that we hoped it would. We can certainly make plenty of arrests on any time that we send our law enforcement officers out there for patrol,” DNR South Central Regional Director Mark Aquino said. “Ultimately, again, our mission is find a way to open up the property so that the full general public can enjoy it, feel comfortable visiting, taking their families, and we're not there yet.”
Now, Senator Jon Erpenbach and Representative Fred Clark have sent a letter to Dane County district attorney Ismael Ozanne, expressing deep concern over “the apparent lack of communication and cooperation” between the district attorney’s office and the DNR.
In that letter, they ask Ozanne to cooperate with DNR officers to ensure illegal activities be prosecuted appropriately.
In response, Ozanne said a number of the citations in and around Mazo Beach never make it to his prosecutors’ desks. Instead, they are settled through fine payments or prior to an initial appearance. Other times, he said DNR law enforcement spot civil forfeitures.
That said, Ozanne said the DNR should be looking to other agencies that have effectively dealt with similar problems without shutting people out of public land.
“If you are one, not patrolling, two, closing off an area, and then on days that you spot check, spotting civil forfeitures, I don't know how you extrapolate to numbers that may mean that this is a rampant problem,” Ozanne said. “I'm not saying there's not activity they shouldn't be addressing, but quite frankly, you need to put the resources to a problem in order to solve a problem.”
Ozanne said the solution is not to close down land, but rather keep it open to keep more people in the area and more eyes on potentially illicit activity.
Ozanne believes banning nudity at the park would not be effective. He said as far as he knew, the people regularly stripping down at the waterfront haven’t been the main culprits of crime in the area.
Ozanne added making nudity illegal could be a slippery slope for outlawing other things and having to ticket for things like naked children at beaches and breastfeeding in public.
On top of other factors, Ozanne said the district attorney’s office is short-staffed.
“We're dealing with a lot of complex and serious law violations - whether it be child abuse and neglect, whether it be heroin, whether it be violent home invasions - those are things that we are dealing with. So it's up to the law enforcement agency to determine what kind of law violation has occurred and how they want to refer it to our office or if they do,” Ozanne said.
“We want to make sure we have a very clear understanding as to what types of cases we can bring to the DA so his office can successfully prosecute them and hopefully have a deterrent effect,” Aquino said. “But we are concerned about the level and nature of the illegal behavior that we're seeing taking place on the beach.”
Aquino said the DNR is working on a master plan for public land in that area and is holding public comment sessions throughout the summer on the best use for the area.