City News

City grapples with emerging ‘criminal gang’ presence on University Avenue

Madison police dealt with more than 100 cases on the 600 block of University Avenue between August and October. 

A strip of bars near the UW-Madison campus has become a center for “criminal gang” activity, according to some city officials. And local law enforcement is having trouble keeping up.

Due to a “lack of resources,” city police had to request help from the UW-Madison Police Department to break up a fight Saturday at Wando’s Bar on University Avenue, MPD Chief Mike Koval wrote in a blog post.

The incident comes as part of a recent spike in crime on the 600 block of University Avenue — including some instances in which MPD has had to deploy pepper spray to break up fights. Some of those involved in recent disturbances have “ties to criminal gangs and criminal histories involving the use of firearms,” according to Ald. Mike Verveer, District 4.

As disturbances have become “acute,” the city now deploys an average of fifteen extra officers in the area on weekend nights. With most of those officers clocked in on overtime, the initiative cost the city more than $100,000 this year.

“The big question we are facing now is whether to dial back,” Verveer said, noting the shortage of officers able to respond to the fight at Wando’s this weekend.

In the meantime, city officials and police are meeting with business owners to discuss preventative measures, like installing more surveillance cameras and lighting.

But some just want to see more patrol officers.

Arturo Ruiz, manager of Village Pizza — a new late-night restaurant located a few doors down from Wando’s — says while he isn’t aware of any gang-related activity in the area, he has felt “unsafe” at times.

“During store renovations, someone broke two of the windows,” Ruiz said, also adding that he has seen at least one “big” fight in the area recently.

Ruiz said he would feel more secure with police officers around when he leaves between 3 and 4 a.m. on the weekends.

“Usually [police officers] stay until bar time and after they leave, everything is empty here,” he said. “If the police stay more time, I think everything is going to be okay."

Jack Ansheles, manager of Vintage Spirits & Grill — located on the 500 block of University Avenue — says he “doesn’t know anything about” gang-related activity on the street.

“It’s just [on the 600 block of University],” he said. “We get invited to the meetings and stuff but we don’t have any issues over here.”

Between Aug. 1 and Oct. 5, MPD opened 117 cases in the area, according to records obtained by The Daily Cardinal. About 84 percent of those incidents — all but 19 — occurred on the weekend. Most were at night, with about 70 percent happening between 10 p.m. and 4 a.m.

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