University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee students have seen an increased presence of the Milwaukee Police Department near the university and on Milwaukee’s east side in recent weeks. The situation is reportedly the result of tensions arising between intoxicated students and the permanent residents of the area.
The crackdown on student misconduct has led to 102 arrests in the UWM area in recent weeks, according to an Oct. 4 article in the UWM Post. Of those arrested, 72 have been UWM students.
“ An “us vs. them” mentality has been created between students and residential neighbors,” said Tereza Pelicaric, student body president at UWM.
Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn detailed the reasons for the increased presence in a Sept. 21 letter to Michael Laliberte, vice chancellor of student affairs at UWM.
In the letter, Flynn said MPD’s presence in the UWM area has had a positive impact.
“Unfortunately, the disorder and criminal damage that results from unruly students seems to be escalating. It appears our strict enforcement and new practice of taking violators into custody (are) the strategies that have the greatest impact on the disorder,” Flynn wrote in his letter.
Stephen Basting, captain of the MPD’s District One, which includes the UWM campus, is a UWM alum and said he did not think alcohol-related crime was a major problem before working in the area.
“I went to parties while I was in school, and I didn’t see what the big deal was,” he said. “Now I see that the drinking has reached epidemic levels.”
Basting said when he started focusing on the UWM area, he and other officers aimed to reach out to students to solve the issue.
“That didn’t work, so (we had to start giving them citations),” he said.
This year, the parties and drinking have gotten out of hand, according to Basting, who said he has video of drunken students trying to force their way into a neighbor’s home, thinking it was their own.
“In the big scheme of things, (the partying) is not a big deal, but imagine if you were a neighbor and you had to deal with students (damaging your property) every Thursday, Friday and Saturday night,” he said. “The neighbors are at their wits’ end.”
According to Perry Spott, a sophomore at UWM and a renter of an east side home, the crackdown was due to poor relations between students and other residents in the area.
“It’s creating tension and unrest (in the neighborhood),” he said.
Spott, whose house has been searched by MPD officers, said he thinks the officers do not have the students’ best interests in mind.
Forty three Wisconsin-certified Milwaukee police officers, four dispatchers and 35 security officers serve the university, according to the UWM police department’s website.
In the Sept. 21 letter, Flynn also wrote that he views UWM students in the area as “guests” because most “do not own property in Milwaukee and they do not directly contribute to tax base.” He continued, “As guests, (students) should be exhibiting proper conduct.”
Though he does not live in the UWM area, Flynn also rents an apartment in Milwaukee, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported on Oct. 5. Spott said he took offense to Flynn’s words.
“I’m from Milwaukee, and so are a huge percentage of students who attend the university,” he said. “Even after that fact, our rent pays the mortgage for the house, and I pay for water, heat and electricity.”
Basting said he is glad students have started to talk about this issue.
“The changes have to come from the students,” he said. “I’m not going to pretend like I can ticket my way out of this.”
Pelicaric said support of the MPD is necessary.
“Greater support from both parties — the students and neighbors — could only improve relations and ease the current tension,” she said.
Despite student backlash, Basting said MPD has neighborhood and university support.
“(Our presence) has generated awareness, and I look at that as a positive thing,” he said. “All the police department is looking for is some level of respectable behavior in the neighborhood.”