Since becoming a commissioned police department on May 1, 2015, what have the first six months been like for the Marquette University Police Department, campus and the surrounding community? An interview with MUPD Chief Paul Mascari and Milwaukee Police Department District 3 Captain Jason Smith:
Q: So, when you think about the first six months of MUPD as a commissioned department, what stands out to you?
Paul Mascari: “I think what stands out is the immediate impact that this transition has had. In the first six months, we’ve seen a decrease in crime in the area. We’ve seen a decrease in robberies and we’ve seen a decrease in overall crime. The relationship we’ve had with our overall community is central to keeping our campus safe. We’ve received really great feedback from property owners who aren’t affiliated with Marquette — merchants, businesses, homeowners in the area who have been very happy that we’re now a police force in the area.”
Q: So what have you seen from a Milwaukee Police Department perspective?
Jason Smith: “It’s a hard question for me to answer, because, and I’ve said it before, Marquette’s always acted like a police agency. It was hard to tell the difference. Out of our public safety partners, Marquette was the most like another police department. We treated them the same way. But I think what we’ve seen, and Paul just mentioned it, we’ve seen a significant reduction in the crimes that kept me up at night, which were robberies on campus. And even for those that we didn’t prevent, the solvability factor — these guys are catching them. That’s a huge piece. If the incident does in fact happen, the next best thing that can happen is the actors are caught and prosecuted. And that’s happening.”
Q: In general, how do you measure success as a department?
Mascari: “Well, I think there are two things. Obviously, the crime reduction is a big one, and I think any police department will measure success in that. But also, we are constantly assessing how safe our students, our faculty and our staff feel on campus. And I think we’ve seen that, the feedback that we’ve received is the campus community is happy we’re out there, they’re happy with the job we’re doing and ultimately, they feel safe. Now, that doesn’t take away that you’re living in an urban environment. We are regularly teaming up with students, faculty and staff to educate them on making smart choices. So I think that’s ultimately what we measure our success against.”
Q Here are some statistics from May 1 to October 31:
- 38% reduction in robberies
- 52% reduction in batteries
- 14% reduction in burglaries
- 11% reduction in thefts
- 20% reduction in overall crime
As a department, did you set goals or expectations for the first six months?
Mascari: “We didn’t set any goals. I think we knew our first six months it was going to be a lot of adjusting. The first three months as a police department, we had a lot of people in training, we were running at or near our minimum shift staffing. We knew that we were going to need those first couple of months to adjust to our new role, work out our policies and procedures and the different processes. We just had to see what our activity level was going to be. We knew how busy we were as a private security department, as public safety. Now we have to throw in, we’re following many these incidents to closure, as far as the arrests and going to the DA’s office, things that the Milwaukee Police Department handled in the past, for some of the lesser incidents happened on campus. One of the major benefits was that it was going to increase our efficiency, it was going to free up the Milwaukee Police Department to focus on other things that they needed to focus on in the rest of the district. It was hard to gauge how much of an impact that was going to have, but we are confident that has had an impact.”
Q: MUPD’s mission goes beyond simply protecting Marquette students. What are you seeing in terms of MUPD’s effect on the entire neighborhood?
Smith: “We can get into the Near West Side Partners and the PARC initiative. I think the timing is unique because all this happened at the same time as the certification. As Chief mentioned as well, it’s a careful balance. We’re not backing off, we’re certainly not slowing down any of our crime initiatives. But to Chief’s point, part of the risk for an urban campus is the area outside the campus, still within the patrol zone. We haven’t reduced our numbers of officers assigned to the foot beats here at the Avenues West MPD substation, but there’s a stronger partnership and more awareness around information sharing on crime and around Marquette having the capability to do something with that that they didn’t have that capability when they were public safety. It has allowed us to focus more strongly on the risk that lies just outside the campus area, and it’s perfect timing. You look at relationships now as well, and how Marquette, you look at the PARC initiative and part of that is reducing crime. And Marquette now has a very well equipped agency to deal with that portion of it as well. So it’s not just MPD.”
Q: One of the key concepts of MUPD becoming a commissioned police department was the idea that as a public safety department, you’d have to wait for an MPD officer to issue a citation or make an arrest. Now you don’t. Is that one of the most significant changes?
Mascari: “That’s been a really big change, and we’ve always had a great working relationship with Milwaukee Police Department, especially District 3, which most of Marquette falls under. And what this has allowed us to do, it’s just strengthened that partnership. The Milwaukee Police Department’s still in the area. And we’re able to help them out on certain things, they’re able to help us out on certain things. And that’s how we’ve seen the relationship develop even more over these past six months. That we can handle things in our area, but we know when we need the assistance of the Milwaukee Police Department and they’ve always been great responding to that. Robberies are a perfect example of that. We’re in the area, we’re usually first on scene. But we work very closely with Milwaukee Police Department because we know that most of these robberies, they’re not just happening in our area. People that we take into custody are potentially, most likely, responsible for other robberies in the area. So MPD has a better capability to investigate that and connect those incidents to elsewhere in the city. And that’s just one example of how we can partner and really impact the area.”
Q: And it frees your officers up, to some extent?
Smith: “We look at how criminals view university campuses. They look at them as vulnerable populations, where they can victimize people freely. It happens throughout the country. And that was a big challenge for us. We are one of the busiest, if not the busiest, district in the city. We have 30 other neighborhoods, some are very challenged. Probably close to 50,000 calls for service. We look at response times, we look at what prevents crime. And quite often, in a campus setting, it is that visible presence. Despite the fact that some of my largest deployments on foot and bike are in this area, it’s still a challenge when those cops are on calls. So having Marquette engaged as a law enforcement agency is a huge factor in preventing crime and solving it.”
Q: Chief Mascari, can you tell us about some of the MUPD programs people might not know about, such as homeless outreach?
Mascari: “Obviously, we have the Rescue Mission in our area, and there’s a significant homeless population within our patrol zone and the Near West Side overall. It’s a challenge to deal with that, but as a Catholic, Jesuit university, we are called to help our neighbors. There are an incredible amount of services within the Near West Side that are geared toward the homeless population, and it’s our officers’ job to try and help them get connected with services. We think that’s a more effective way to deal with the issue than writing a citation that somebody probably can’t pay. So there are a lot of other efforts going on. The Milwaukee Police Department has a homeless outreach team, the county’s doing a lot to address the issue. Working with all of those other partners to address that is what we’re really focused on.”
Smith: “What I think is great bout having a university partner is that in the past, and currently, anything that we responded to that a student, staff or anyone associated with the school is impacted by crime or disorder, MPD would come and handle the situation and then move on. When you have a university or campus PD, they can connect that victim or that complainant to whatever services the school has as well.”
Q: There’s obviously a lot of scrutiny right now nationally about the relationships between communities and police departments. How would you characterize that relationship here, whether it’s students or other community members?
Mascari: “One of the big things that we’ve seen with the Near West Side Partners is really the effort to connect with the community, to connect with the different neighborhoods and really take a holistic approach to improving crime and disorder in the Near West Side. So there’s a culture, not only here within Marquette’s patrol zone but in the Near West Side as a whole, to really make it a community effort. We can’t solve the problems or crime alone, law enforcement can’t do it alone. We need the help of community partners. It’s something that we focus on, and I know it’s something that the Milwaukee Police Department focuses on, especially when involved in initiatives like the Near West Side Partners.”
Smith: “The national dialogue, all you have to do is turn on the TV and hear. It’s rarely positive stories about police and community relations. However, our community prosecution unit and our place-based strategy, community first, has become the foundation of that. What we’re doing is we’re getting community involved at the beginning of crime, disorder issues. Our focus in the Byrne (a U.S. Department of Justice grant) area really became the model for that in the Washington Park area where we started to not look just at how can a police department impact just safety, but we’re looking at youth and education, public health, employment, housing, all of these pieces that build a community. Because just as the chief mentioned, we can’t police every corner. So what we’re trying to do is get to the root causes of some of these issues and with that, we’ve really developed a strong model of engagement with the community. It’s kind of helped our way through this, and also given the officers a little more understanding about the communities they serve.”
Q: So what’s next? How do you grow from here?
Mascari: “For MUPD, we’re in the process of coming up with our strategic plan, where we want to go as a police department. We have six months under our belt, and as we wrap up our first year, we really want to have a clear vision of what we want this police department to look like over the next five to 10 years. That goes kind of hand in hand with what we want the Near West Side of Milwaukee to look like in the next couple of years. And so we’ll be looking very closely at the initiatives and the goals of the Near West Side Partners, we’ll be working very closely with the campus community to see what their priorities are. Certainly, we’ve started to identify what priorities as far as pedestrian safety, reducing robberies, burglaries. We want to continue that. So I think it does go hand in hand with what we want the Near West Side to look like, overall.”
Smith: “I think it’s a great and continuing relationship. Milwaukee PD has a lot to give, but it’s a learning environment. We’re learning from Marquette PD as we go along as well. Chief and I talk just about every day, we get to debrief just about every situation that has happened on campus or just outside. So we continue to learn from each other in that respect. And it’s been a great relationship.”