Langdon Street Safety

3 11 2006
  From the Badger Herald:

Greeks’ plan ill-advised

by Emily Friedman
Thursday, November 2, 2006

Halloween is over and, surprisingly, ended without pepper spray or riots — an achievement that students and city officials should be proud of. With that said, it is now time for Madison officials to put away their riot gear and return to the more pertinent issues facing the downtown area. Just because Halloween weekend saw a minimal amount of crime compared to years past does not mean that we are in the clear. Crime here in Madison, just as in any other city, is an issue we cannot afford to ignore.

The recent months have been plagued with violence of all types, from break-ins to robberies to sexual assaults. Just this week, a girl was sleeping on her couch when she awoke to an assailant holding a knife to her neck. And that is without even broaching the entire disaster that was Club Majestic.

Whereas most of the crimes have occurred in downtown areas that are flooded with student apartments, Langdon Street has been under particular scrutiny for poor lighting and an absence of surveillance. Following an attack on a student who lived on Langdon, several columnists, as well as The Badger Herald editorial board, urged the city to make changes and help to ensure the safety of UW students. Instead of seeking out underage drinkers at local bars, police officers should be hitting the streets on high alert for potentially dangerous situations.

Much to the surprise of doubtful students, the city responded well and there has since been a noticeable increase in the number of cops downtown, as well as a general feeling of strong police presence in the most dangerous areas. Don’t get me wrong, drinking tickets are still signed weekly, but there are unarguably more cops keeping watch on the city and students.

City officials also took part in a survey of working streetlights throughout the downtown area. Upon determining lights that were either broken, overtaken by shrubbery or just plain non-existent, they took action and brought light to many of our streets.

The city of Madison has done a good job addressing the crime problem, and although there is still work to do, Halloween did, if nothing else, remove some of the skepticism surrounding the police department.

Despite these improvements, the UW Greek system has formulated a plan to institute a neighborhood watch consisting of fraternity and sorority members. In a press release from the Madison Police Department Nov. 1, Greek members are not “asked to take on a confrontational or law enforcement role” but instead “become a highly visible presence” on the street. Greeks will begin patrolling on the evening of Nov. 3, and will continue the surveillance every Friday and Saturday night from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. for the rest of the academic year. It was also noted that Greek members are the major advocates for the implementation of emergency safety light stations on Langdon.

Although the plan has good intentions, I question both the appropriateness of Greek members performing such an important job as well as the potentially dangerous repercussions of the system. A neighborhood watch program manned by college students should be a last result for a city like ours. After all, we are not paying tuition to take over the responsibilities of a police department, especially one that has been stepping up to the plate and listening to students’ concerns.

The types of violent crimes have ranged from sexual assaults of young women to the battery of young men. Many have been extremely violent and the choice of victims has proven the age-old stereotype wrong: Men can get attacked, too. Furthermore, walking in groups does not always protect students from danger, as gang violence often has no rhyme or reason. So, who is to say that assailants won’t just see the patrolling Greeks as a perfect target, rather than a deterrent?

In a deserted community with little violence, I understand the point and the effectiveness of a neighborhood watch. But it is frustrating to think that Madison residents are so out of touch with the reality of living in a city that they think they can take this situation into their own hands. By doing so, they are essentially removing much of the pressure that has helped mobilize the police force and lessen downtown crime rates.

Yes, an increase in the number of people on Langdon Street will probably make residents feel safer. But will they actually be safer? It’s doubtful. Examining the history of attacks leads me to believe that safety is not in the numbers, but in police enforcement.

Emily Friedman (efriedman@badgerherald.com) is a senior majoring in journalism and legal studies.

My Response

Dear Ms. Friedman,

It’s excellent that you praise the city of Madison for its work in making city streets even the least bit safer. I actually was unaware of much of what has happened as far as stepping up safety measures.

I’m dissappointed about your stance on the neighborhood watch program, though. To quote:

…But it is frustrating to think that Madison residents are so out of touch with the reality of living in a city that they think they can take this situation into their own hands. By doing so, they are essentially removing much of the pressure that has helped mobilize the police force and lessen downtown crime rates.

I don’t believe very many of Madison’s students are so naive as to think that this is a city without crime. My sister spent her first three weeks in Madison carrying her can of mace in a death grip everywhere she went and was sure to walk with at least one other after dark. To add to that, I’m very sure that most people know they wouldn’t be able to stop a determined criminal on their own or often even in groups.

By implementing any kind of plan, we’re not relieving the city’s sense of responsibility. If a loosely organized group of determined college students causes the city and the police force to let their guards down, God help us all. Rather, the Greek community is taking on a sense of true community. (Or many in the Greek community are, anyway. It’s sad to have a fraction of Greeks such as yourself and at least one member of my fraternity in opposition to the plan.)

For once, we’re able to put aside our competetive squabbles and work together with a sense of ownership in our community. This community includes everyone on Langdon: apartment-dwellers, co-op members and Greeks. Many of societies problems are fed by a lack of community and togetherness. I’m sure this neighboorhood plan will make the Langdon Street area safer.

A Brother’s Public Anonymous Response

Anonymous (November 2, 2006 @ 1:42pm):

This article frustrates and irritates me on a number of levels. My feelings wouldn’t be so strong, either, if I hadn’t been so sure that the Herald (and Emily in particular) would take this stance on a neighborhood watch program that can only help, not harm. Let us examine the main points of Emily’s article further.

She makes an argument that has become more popular as of late by saying that police officers should focus less on catching underage drinkers at bars and more on surveillance of downtown streets after bar-time (when most of the attacks have occurred). This is a sentiment voiced by many people I have talked to about this issue, including members of my own fraternity (which is spearheading the first patrols on Nov. 3). The thought is this: the police aren’t doing their job; we shouldn’t do it for them. This is a dangerous mentality – it is symptomatic of a general disregard for one’s own community and neighborhood that is sadly all but omnipresent in the Greek Community. Half of the fraternities cannot even take care of their own chapter houses, let alone care about the state of the street upon which they live. But to completely disregard and discount the idea for what is essentially a neighborhood watch program is short-sighted. Is the safe-walk, safe-ride, and safe-bus program then equally ineffective and worthless in combating violent crimes?

The police cannot be everywhere at all times. To quote one of my brothers: “with this plan, they are acknowledging their own shortcomings and recognizing that we are capable enough to make a difference in our community’s safety. In front of us we have a chance to help make our city safer. That protection is the job of the police is certainly true, but they don’t have a monopoly on that market…helping patrol Langdon and taking the means to discuss police priorities are not mutually exclusive.”

A neighborhood watch program cannot hurt. Why do nothing as men are beaten and mugged, women are raped and hurt, etc.? To assume, as Emily does, that a neighborhood watch program is counter-productive because it deflects responsibility off the police is over-simplistic. Honestly, I cannot imagine a meeting of Madison police officials in which they will state: “well, we’ve got the Greek system patrolling Langdon now, so we don’t have to worry about that anymore.” Of course it relieves some pressure on the department. Isn’t that the point? The police are charged with protecting and serving the populace – but to refuse to help with that responsibility is selfish. Why does a neighborhood watch program have to be a last resort? Why can responsible students not come together for the greater good and take the initiative in helping police? And I must laugh at the idea of a gang of violent criminals walking down to Langdon in order to attack a group of 25-30 Greek members. There IS strength in numbers, and the crimes that have been perpetrated on Langdon have NOT been gang crimes of 4 or more people, they have been individuals or pairs of people attacking inebriated students walking home from the bars late at night. There is a world of difference between group gang violence and a pattern of individual attacks.

And a news flash: downtown crime rates haven’t been going down. Sure, there has been an increased police presence, but incidents are still happening. Emily, if you honestly think we are out of touch with reality because we want to HELP our fellow man, then perhaps you need to turn that magnifying glass around and ask yourself why you are so quick to attack the police and the Greek system (of which you are a part) instead of taking responsibility yourself and doing what you can to help. You may think you are part of the solution by pointing fingers and bashing potential assistance plans, but you’re actually part of the problem. Don’t make the problem worse by refusing to lend your support because you selfishly assume the police aren’t doing everything they can to combat the problem.

For the record, I’ll be out there on Friday night with my brothers. I hope we won’t have to, but even if we just stop ONE drunk kid from harassing a woman, or make a potential rapist think twice about where he can hide to claim his next victim because there will be 30 men with their eyes open that night, then the program has succeeded. Why? Because it didn’t exist before. Emily, and other students, I implore you to help us combat a problem that affects and concerns us ALL, not just the police, instead of calling us names and pointing fingers.

ppka

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