City News

City study shows correlation between alcohol-dense areas, police presence

Alcohol-dense areas close to campus were identified as requiring a higher police presence. 

Alcohol-dense areas close to campus were identified as requiring a higher police presence. 

Image By: Betsy Osterberger

A recent City of Madison study on the density of alcohol-selling establishments revealed a higher use of city resources associated with alcohol-dense areas. 

According to the report, areas such as University Avenue use more police resources and increase city costs. 

“Higher density levels showed higher costs for Madison Police Department and Building Inspection, with MPD accounting for the majority of costs,” the report said.

The study did not provide any specific recommendations, but was intended to inform the Alcohol License Review Committee. The committee advises policymakers looking to address alcohol density in Madison in addition to their alcohol licensing responsibilities. 

The report also offered best practices regarding alcohol licenses, including geographic, population-level, commercial, as well as time and space alcohol license restrictions.

$6.8 billion is devoted to addressing excessive alcohol use in Wisconsin, according to the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute. Cities are responsible for costs that result from alcohol use — including police response. 

Madison leaders are interested whether the report’s findings may have an impact on the city’s response to alcohol-dense areas.

“Just overall from the public health perspective, we would be very interested in any types of policies or actions that would be related to having people be able to drink in a more controlled environment and reducing some of those related harms,” Julia Olsen, a project manager from Public Health Madison and Dane County, told the Cap Times

Laura Larsen, a project manager from the Finance Department, also expressed her hopes for the impact the report might have on the city’s actions.

“This is an opportunity for the Alcohol License Review Committee to take a step back and look at how density does impact, specifically, our public safety resources and as a body discuss what is their role in being mindful of that as they work through their processes on a year to year basis,” Larsen told the Cap Times. 

Ald. Mike Verveer, District 4, is working to address suggestions from the report, starting with sponsoring an amendment that would increase the cost of a city entertainment license. This amendment was taken up by the Finance Committee and will be voted on by the City Council during the week of Nov. 11.

"The report does not yield many surprises to me since I have long represented this geographic area with the highest concentration of alcohol outlets in City Hall for so long and also given my long tenure on the [Alcohol License Review Committee]," Verveer told the Cap Times. 

City officials finding effective ways to manage alcohol use in Madison is historically not uncommon.

An ordinance in 2007 was issued to keep the number and capacity of alcohol licenses in downtown Madison low. Other efforts to address alcohol density include the creation of an alcohol overlay district in 2014 and former Mayor Paul Soglin’s actions to curb the issuance of new alcohol licenses downtown.

The overlay district, originally set to expire in July 2019, will be in place until the end of the year to give the City Council an opportunity to review the alcohol density study’s findings. 

This overlay district puts restrictions of food, beverage and retail establishments on the last two blocks of State Street and University Avenue. It does not allow any new liquor stores or taverns.

Verveer said it is "imperative" that city policymakers begin discussing the future of the overlay district. This will be discussed at ALRC’s Nov. 20 meeting before providing the City Council with a recommendation.

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