Advocates criticize police for throwing away items belonging to homeless

Police say items can't be abandoned on city property

Advocates for homeless people are criticizing Madison police for throwing away items belonging to homeless people that were left unattended on city property.

Police said they discovered a large number of items left on city property Wednesday morning between the Wisconsin Veteran’s Museum, 30 W. Mifflin St., and State Street.

Based upon previous complaints in this area, police have been pro-actively working for months to educate citizens that it’s illegal to leave or abandon property in public right-of-ways, sidewalks or cul-de-sacs, according to a Madison Police Department news release.

Shelby Andrews, one of the homeless people who had belongings taken, said she was helping a friend at Meriter Hospital during a medical procedure and was gone for “three, four or five hours.”

“It takes so long for you to get that stuff and then it just disappears and somebody steals it or it gets thrown away,” said Andrews. She said her clean clothes, sleeping bag and bus pass were gone when she returned.

Homeless advocates said the city shouldn’t have taken the items. They said state law requires the city to keep those items for 90 days before throwing them away so someone could claim them.

Police said there was no identification on the property. Police said an officer spent well over an hour contacting numerous people in the area attempting to determine ownership but was unsuccessful.

The officer then contacted Mall Maintenance staff and asked that the property be removed. Mall Maintenance responded with a truck and the abandoned property was taken to a city facility on Olin Avenue, police said.

Police Chief Noble Wray said it is a “tough job” to manage public spaces, particularly near the Capitol Square where property, with no identification, is often abandoned, or left unattended for long periods of time.

Police said that in the post-9/11 era, unattended backpacks and other items are subject to suspicion by citizens and by law enforcement.

“The MPD’s intent was not to deprive anyone of their personal property, but to enforce the law and maintain safety. Chief Wray also wants the community to know that officers working in this area continue to treat all people with dignity and respect,” the Madison Police Department said in the news release.