EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) – A look back at the last ten years in downtown Eau Claire shows as redevelopment increased, the crime rate went down.
The Eau Claire Police Department showed us its data from the last ten years, specifically in downtown surrounding the redeveloped Phoenix Park area.
From 2003 to 2013, there was a 7 percent decrease in the total calls for police service. There was an 18 percent decrease in Part I Index Crimes which are violent and property crimes like aggravated assault, murder, arson and burglary. There was a 6 percent decrease in Part II Index Crimes which are quality of life crimes like simple assault, curfew offenses and loitering.
Police chief Jerry Staniszewski said the numbers aren't for or against the Confluence Project, but hopes the study can help people understand the effects redevelopment has on crime in the community.
“I started in the police department about 24 years ago and I can tell you I was assigned to patrol that downtown area then and that was the main focus of our patrols at night because it was really high call volume a lot of crimes,” said Staniszewski.
He referred to the “Broken Windows Theory” (1982) which he said can be applied to many communities; urban decay is inextricably linked to crime.
“So if people become disconnected from their neighborhood, there's a lot of vandalism or graffiti that’s not taken care of or cleaned up, it gives a sense that people don't really care about their neighborhood so there’s no deterrence for further crime,” said Staniszewski.
The police chief said he sent the information on the effects of neighborhood redevelopment on crime rate to the city manager in hopes of giving people a better understanding of the statistics.
A 2013 police density map shows the greatest concentration of incidents in the downtown area was in the 100 block of S. Barstow Street, close to the proposed Confluence Project area.
City council member Eric Larsen who supports investing in the Confluence Project said with the addition of RCU, the Phoenix Park Neighborhood and JAMF Software, the types of people who congregate downtown have slowly changed. Larsen also was on the police force for 28 years.
“Suppose the neighborhood is known for its nightlife and entertainment and art. Then people who are engaged and interested in those kinds of activities, peaceful activities will go to that neighborhood and it becomes a much more attractive place for people to go and spend time,” said Larsen.
Larsen said bringing in new development can help create jobs and increase the quality of living with night life and entertainment.
Council member Bob Von Haden who helped push for a referendum in relation to the Confluence Project said bringing in new buildings doesn't necessarily mean crime will go away.
“Anytime we can develop an area and improve it, it will help that but it will not eliminate it unless we provide alternatives like Hobbs Ice Center, the Children’s Museum, the other museum, the ball parks,” said Von Haden.
Von Haden said people who commit crimes will find a place to do it, whether its downtown or somewhere else.
“If you're going to eliminate those types of things, what you have to do and what we've done a lot of is develop programs for young people and young adults to give them something to do to keep them off the streets,” he said.
Larsen said when he was a police officer N. Barstow Street was a busy area for crime.
“There was a series of taverns, porn shop just on the south side of the bridge and a lot of crime, poverty living conditions, a Superfund cleanup site and it was one of the busiest parts of town as far as the police department was concerned,” said Larsen. “It was a refreshing change in terms of the quality of the neighborhood and the reduction in service required of that neighborhood for police, fire, social services and public works.”
Von Haden said there is a lot of information out there for people now and as far as the Confluence Project is concerned, he hopes people will get the right information.
“There is a lot of confusion, a lot of misinformation and what we want to happen is to get out all the information so that the voters have the opportunity to make the selection that fits them the best,” said Von Haden. “I’m on city council and I feel that yes, I do have the knowledge and experience that I could make a decision on this project. But because of the impact it has on the citizens, not just the people in the arts, but all of the citizens of city of Eau Claire, from an economic standpoint, cost standpoint, whether they like the old buildings, new buildings, this way we get an explanation on all the people on their feelings on the project.”
On April 1st, voters will choose if they’d like to enact a law that would require a referendum on any arts projects where the city would contribute at least $1 million. There’s also a vote on whether to allow the county to spend $3.5 million on the Confluence Project.
We'll have full coverage on the confluence project this Wednesday in our Assignment 13 report.
WEAU’s Kevin Hurd will have everything you need to know before heading to the polls.