Madison police, bar owners work to remake downtown image

University Avenue bar district has had shootings, stabbing
Madison police, bar owners work to remake downtown image

University of Wisconsin-Madison students are moving back to campus for the first time since a graduation weekend shooting rocked the community in May.

The shooting, which Madison Police blamed on gang violence that has been plaguing the popular 600 block of University Avenue, was one of a string of high-profile summer incidents in the area near campus.

Police added about 20 officers on the weekends, brought their gang task force in, and are now proposing to add security cameras downtown and monitor them during peak times.

“It may serve as a deterrent for some people,” Police Chief Noble Wray said. “What we’re looking for is that (the cameras) will also help us allocate our resources in a more efficient manner.”

The incidents also included a stabbing and a mugging nearby, and have been more numerous than in previous years, Wray said.

The nightclub Segredo, where an employee dropped a handgun earlier this year and was late to report the incident to police, has undergone interior remodeling and a management restructuring this summer, its owner told WISC-TV.

Segredo had its liquor license questioned after the incident, making it one of only “eight or nine” establishments in the city with the distinction this summer, said Mark Woulf, the city’s alcohol policy coordinator.

The owner, Michael Hierl, got his license renewed after promising to become more involved in the day-to-day operations.

Madison police, bar owners work to remake downtown image

“That incident gave us a huge black eye, but we believe — and police recognize — that was a real anomaly,” Hierl said, adding that he has fired the employee. He also added exterior lighting at the city’s suggestion.

Woulf said police have been called fewer times to Segredo than when the business was under different owners and was called Madison Avenue.

“We don’t want to get necessarily as a city into the business that you have to do X, Y and Z,” Woulf said. “We want to hear you as a business owner tell us what you think needs to happen there in the future.”

Some parents, who were in Madison to move their entering freshmen into school, said they weren’t aware of the summer incidents, but were supportive of the policing plans.

“Every time we’ve been here it’s been very safe and friendly,” said one Illinois parent. “We think (our son’s) going to be fine here.”

Returning students who remembered the May shooting still felt safe, as long as they took common sense precautions.

“I guess the police and security cameras are just to make sure nothing happens,” sophomore Adam Korty said. “There’s always volatile people obviously, but I think it’s a natural reaction. Madison’s still a safe place to be.”

Police have said the problems trace back to gangs coming into downtown from elsewhere and harassing bar patrons — or worse.

The goal remains to force them out of downtown, Wray said.

“We believe that (the changes) are having an effect, not only from what I’m hearing from the officers, but also from the citizens of downtown Madison,” he said. “It’s been a positive response to the additional resources at a critical time.”