Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Wisconsin Greeks Assist Local Police

Students laud cop for Langdon St. beat
Anita Weier

There was a time when fraternity members might run at the sight of a police officer, but times have changed on Langdon Street in Madiso, Wiscinsin.

Now, community police officers help sorority and fraternity members form night patrols and often patrol with them to keep the area where many Greek houses are located safe.

The Greek community credits Madison Police Sgt. Tony Fiore, who for the past two years was the neighborhood officer on Langdon. A reception to honor him will take place Wednesday at 4 p.m. in the On Wisconsin Room at the Red Gym.

But Fiore, who was promoted Feb. 3, very much credits the students he has come to know.

"When I told people I worked on Langdon Street, I got the 'drunken college kid question,' but I enjoy working with the young leaders and helping them make a positive impact," Fiore said in an interview at Police Department headquarters.

Of course, students still party and binge-drink, so the beat is not always easy, but Fiore enjoyed the constant energy and enthusiasm in the area.

"I saw it as one of my challenges that I wanted to address that 'anything goes until all hours, open-party atmosphere,' " Fiore said.

"I think Langdon has changed. It's calmer. There are still good times, but it has changed for the better."

He also found it amazing that so many sorority and fraternity members were willing to give up Friday and Saturday nights to help keep the Langdon area safe.

Alex Sheridan, who was president of Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity and helped Fiore organize the Neighborhood Watch program in 2006, said the impetus was a number of armed robberies, abductions and assaults in the area.

"There was a sense of fear," he recalled. "A number of Greek presidents sat down with Officer Fiore to brainstorm what we could do to curb violence and make people feel safe. He came up with Neighborhood Watch."

Several student coordinators manage the program, and sororities and fraternities alternate nights when they provide volunteers, generally consisting of about 10 people.

The program started out with 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. patrols, but then changed to 11 p.m. to 3 a.m. after an assault occurred after 2 a.m.

The student patrols serve as a visual deterrent and are not expected to be confrontational. Volunteers wear reflective neon-like vests and carry flashlights and a flashing LED light. If a serious incident occurs or a situation is threatening, the patrols are to call 911 and be good witnesses. They don't call for minor alcohol offenses, Fiore said.

Drew Willert, who helped form the Neighborhood Watch as a leader in the Interfraternity Council, said Fiore went "above and beyond" his duties in creating the program.

"His leadership style is kind of cool. When there were sexual assaults and robberies in the area, he didn't just say 'We're doing what we can,' " Willert said.

"In general, students think the cops are the bad guys, but he was able to say, 'We're in this together.'"

In his new post, Fiore is supervising patrol officers in the downtown area -- from First Street on the east to Regent and Camp Randall on the west.

For the past two years he has worked a 7 p.m. to 3 a.m. shift on Thursday, Friday and Saturday and daytime hours on Tuesday and Wednesday, when he was free to meet with student organizations and get to know people in the area.

The patrols will continue with a new Langdon neighborhood officer, Rene Gonzalez, taking charge following a hiatus during the recent bad weather.

Fiore, 36, joined the Madison Police Department in 1998 after working in the state Department of Administration as a budget analyst. He has an undergraduate degree from UW-Platteville in criminal justice and a master's degree in public administration from the University of Arizona.

After trying the state government route, he decided he was still very interested in law enforcement and "decided to go for it" at age 27.

He started out doing patrol work, went to traffic enforcement and safety and then back to patrol.

It's hard to define the statistical effect of the Langdon Neighborhood Watch, he said, because there are many other efforts going on to combat crime in the downtown area.

"But I saw a difference," he said. "People react to the visible patrols. I wouldn't ask people to do it unless I thought it was effective."