Jeramey Jannene
Eyes on Milwaukee

City Wants Downtown Parking Security

40% of downtown crimes are vehicle break-ins. Council demands safety measures.

By - Jan 24th, 2018 03:16 pm
Milwaukee Intermodal Station Parking Lot. Photo by Carl Baehr.

Milwaukee Intermodal Station Parking Lot. Photo by Carl Baehr.

Following some high-profile vehicle break-ins, the Milwaukee Common Council is going to enact baseline security requirements for privately-owned public parking lots and garages Downtown. But how remains to be decided.

Alderman Robert Bauman, who represents much of Downtown and chairs the Public Works Committee, introduced an ordinance that would require surface lot or garage operators to have fulltime attendants, an attendant-manned surveillance platform for every 200 spaces, security lighting, video surveillance and gates. The resolution would not impact private lots and garages that don’t offer public parking.

After receiving substantial feedback in advance of the meeting, Bauman told the many downtown stakeholders in attendance that he was going to hold the measure. “I am amenable to allowing the industry to come up with their own set of recommendations,” he said  but “nothing” — no changes — “will not be acceptable.”

Bauman warned that “there are 15 votes to pass this as is.” His view was buttressed by other aldermen on the committee, who expressed their disbelief at how bad the problem has gotten.

The data is pretty convincing that something needs to be done.

Milwaukee Police Department 1st District captain Diana Rowe gave a brief presentation to committee noting that Downtown is safer than the city on average and that 64 percent of the reported crimes in downtown are theft. But of that 64 percent, “entry to automobile” makes up 67 percent and 52 percent of the vehicle break-in incidents occur in privately-owned lots or garages, with a substantial number of incidents involving multiple vehicles. Rowe noted that surface lots are the most problematic.

Based on Rowe’s report of 2017 crime statistics, four out of every ten crimes that occur Downtown are vehicle break-ins.

In the parking lot to the west of the Milwaukee Intermodal Station (701 W. St. Paul Ave.), 90 vehicles were broken into or damaged in 2017 alone. Bauman waved the lot license before the committee, noting that the “Safety Plan” portion of the license was blank.

Beyond a simple issue of staffing, the police department is unable to patrol privately-owned land. She compared it to the downtown hotels — “the hotel management isn’t going to request that police officers stand in their doorways or patrol their hallways.” But that doesn’t stop constituents from routinely calling her office asking for the department to patrol different parking lots, she noted.

Ald. Mark Borkowski is flabbergasted that lot owners aren’t doing something about the problem. “If I’m the owner why wouldn’t I be proactive? Why wouldn’t I be doing something? Why does it take the Common Council to be doing something?” asked Borkowski.

Ald. Michael Murphy responded that the issue is more significant than how certain parking lots are perceived, but impacts the perception of Milwaukee. “It has a bigger impact on how the city is looked at,” said Murphy.

Frequent parking garage design critic Ald. Nik Kovac supported Murphy’s line of reasoning, noting that he had two different constituents who said they would avoid the downtown area because of the break-ins. Kovac then went on the attack against the surplus of parking spaces in the heart of the city. “We are so overparked it is ridiculous,” said Kovac. “No self-respecting Downtown is covered with the number of surface lots we are.” Kovac said that improving security shouldn’t be controversial given that so many of the parking garages end up being subsidized by the city through tax-incremental financing deals.

Industry Response

After the meeting, Interstate Parking Co. president Tony Janowiec, whose company operates a number of downtown lots and garages, told Urban Milwaukee that his company doesn’t favor a one-size-fits-all approach. Janowiec said “we’re going to work really closely with MPD to gather some data. The bottom line from all the stakeholders here is that security and safety is really the top concern. We have to continue to implement site-specific solutions.”

Janowiec’s firm operates the surface lot near the Milwaukee Intermodal Station that had multiple high-profile break-ins from November 23rd to December 3rd.

A letter to the council from Commercial Association of Realtors Wisconsin president and CEO Tracy Johnson echoed many of Janowiec’s statements. Johnson’s letter complained that “the timing of this ordinance when the commercial real estate market is at a fever pitch sends a message to the marketplace, that doing business Downtown may have unexpected and incremental user fees such as this.”

The committee is likely to revisit the proposed ordinance at their regularly scheduled February 14th meeting.

Parking isn’t the only downtown safety measure Bauman has on his radar. The alderman has also introduced a file that would require canopies be erected over sidewalks bordering downtown construction or demolition sites. The measure is expected to be heard at next Tuesday’s meeting of the Zoning, Neighborhoods & Development Committee.

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11 thoughts on “Eyes on Milwaukee: City Wants Downtown Parking Security”

  1. WitheredHusk says:

    Less parking would reduce this problem…

  2. Q says:

    Amazing how Milwaukee politicians are so quick to pass the buck. “Bauman waved the lot license before the committee, noting that the “Safety Plan” portion of the license was blank.” Who signed off on the license? They should be held accountable for allowing the license to pass with a blank safety plan. If the city is going to subsidies these parking structures with TIFs, make security a requirement.

    Don’t go back after the fact and say how appalling this is or how flabbergasted you are about this situation. You as the governing body allowed this to happen.

  3. JMac says:

    In addition to requiring lots to be attended, gas stations should also be required to be manned when open.

  4. Tim says:

    Q, are you saying the city shouldn’t regulate more now because they regulated less in the past?

    The less regulation in the past is exactly the problem. Hoping and wishing that parking lot companies care about the theft/vandalism against their customers, won’t make it so.

  5. mike says:

    These parking lots suck the wealth out of the city. We have surface lots assessed at less than $500K per acre adjacent to productive buildings at assessed at over $50M.

    In a residential setting, it would be like $200K houses with a neighbor living in a junky $2K shed that keeps getting broken into.

  6. Q says:

    Tim, I am saying there should be accountability for the regulations that were not adhered to in the first place. Clearly there is a regulation set in place by the licensing application. The parking company didn’t fill out the “Safety Plan” on the license form that Mr. Bauman brought to the meeting and the City approved the license anyway.

    Who approved the license?! What motive was there to approve the license with out a “Safety Plan”?

  7. Tim says:

    Q, if there isn’t a law in place to require a safety plan, then how would it get enforced?

    Adding a field for voluntary information on a permit application doesn’t mean it has to be used. When a law is passed, like is proposed, then a “safety plan” can be required.

  8. Robert Bauman says:

    So everyone is clear, under current law, aldermen do not see, much less approve, parking lot license applications and renewals. This type of license is among a class of licenses that are handled administratively by the license division staff. Not all licenses come before the council license committee like liquor and food dealer licenses. We are changing that process under these amendments.

  9. Chris Mullin says:

    There also needs to be more street-facing cameras in high-profile areas that are hit commonly. I have friends in the Walker’s Point area, in particular, that gets hit frequently near the Iron Horse hotel, and nothing seems to be getting done. Cameras outside of apartments, hotels, arenas should be a no brainer. Whether it is a mix of public cameras or hotels/apartments in the area providing them as well, there is no reason people should have to worry about their car at night. It is ridiculous that this continues to occur as often as it does, with police (albeit having bigger fish to fry) doing just about nothing unless there a significant amount of property stolen. It gives the city such a bad look when people staying in hotels and parking outside or in public parking come out to see their window smashed in in the morning. You can’t tell me it is that much money to install these and paying someone to monitor these mainly during the night-time hours to at least crack down on those responsible for all these break-ins.

  10. Q says:

    Tim, I wasn’t aware that the “Safety Plan” was voluntary or optional. It was my assumption and probably wrong that I assumed that if the field was on the license form it would be required. Either way its like admitting guilt. Why have it on there if it isn’t required. The licensing division thought it important enough to put it on the form but not to require it? These companies operate at the lowest cost possible, if its not required, its not going to happen.

    Mr. Bauman, thanks for your input. If this section isn’t a requirement, I hope you’re successful in making it one. If it is required I hope you have the ability to have a word with the licensing division.

  11. Karla says:

    I live in a downtown condo and on too many occasions I’ve gone into my garage at 7am to find tons of broken windows. The last time it happened, the crooks stole the garage door openers to make it easier to enter for the next round of break-ins. The condo association had the openers replaced, but it wasn’t done quickly enough; and there was another round of broken windows within the next few weeks.

    I learned about 20 years ago that it doesn’t matter how safe a neighborhood is, it’s still Milwaukee and you should never leave ANYTHING in your car. If you’re really good at avoiding the problem, you can remove the lightbulb from your glove box and leave it open (showing that there’s literally nothing to take). You can even leave your doors unlocked and put “The Club” on your steering wheel to prevent having the entire car stolen. There are also plenty of inexpensive tracking tiles you can place in your car if you should ever find it missing (or if you get car-jacked). I may be a bit overboard, but I’ve been around too long not to try to protect what I’ve worked for.

    However, my greatest fear is going into my garage while the break-ins are taking place. What if I have my grandchildren with me?

    Of course, our police have higher priorities than responding to car break-ins, and I understand that they are short staffed and life and living deserve being at the top of the list. I have one idea that could help the problem: hire more police. I’m sick of having the same conversation year after year concerning crime in this City. We need more police officers.

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