Madison police confirmed that a handwritten list detailing inappropriate solutions to a series of issues in a downtown area was photographed at the department’s central district this week.
The Isthmus published a photo Wednesday of a white board with a list of ideas that included unkind (“quicksand,” “frequent carpet bombing”) and cruel (“unlimited heroin,” sprinklers with pepper spray) joke ideas to address problems in the State Street area.
Lt. Brian Austin, of the central district, said supervisors were made aware of the list, which was on a dry erase board in a common briefing room, on Monday. Austin said the list started as a legitimate problem-solving exercise to solicit ideas for addressing the area at top of State Street, informally known as "Tinker Toy Park."
Austin said there have been citizen and business complaints in the area for the past several months regarding issues of personal safety, drug use, depositing of human waste, alcohol-fueled fights and sexual harassment.
"While the first several items were legitimate and productive suggestions to positively impact that area, it was also clear that a person...took the opportunity to add inappropriate suggestions to the board," Austin said.
Austin called the additions to the list "a poor attempt at humor," and said they don't reflect the core values of the Madison Police Department or goals related to the issues in that part of State Street.
Tami Fleming, director of operations with the Friends of the State Street Family group, said the comments on the white board surprised her.
"I'm shocked," Fleming said. "I was so impressed with some of the interactions (between officers and others) I witnessed, that I wrote the captain a letter a couple weeks ago. That's not the nature or character I see with the officers."
Karen Andro, the director of outreach ministries at the First United Methodist Church of Madison, said the whiteboard remarks also surprised her.
"It reflects a different experience than what I have," Andro said.
Andro said in her everyday experiences working with Madison's downtown homeless population, she can tell the officers she works with deeply care about the homeless. She said she sees officers treating the downtown homeless population professionally and said they are a constant presence in community discussions about the issue, showing they are committed to finding solutions.
"There's almost always an element of our police department involved because they want to work in collaboration and in coordination to keep our lines of communication open," Andro said.
Van Hendricks, a homeless Madisonian, said reading the quotes upset him.
"It (made) me feel real bad," Hendricks said. "I think it's prejudiced."
Hendricks said, however, he hasn't had any negative experiences with MPD officers, whom he said he respects.
"They're good people. They're just doing their jobs, and I have to respect that," Hendricks said. "But they have to understand...that we are people too."
Austin said the list was erased Monday when it was discovered and the department opened an internal investigation regarding its origin.
"The officers of the Madison Police Department have worked tirelessly the past several months to address the community’s concerns regarding the top of State Street under extremely challenging circumstances," Austin said. "They have worked earnestly to build relationships, and routinely offer assistance and services when they have contact with persons in need who are willing to accept that help."