Despite Water Street fights, Chief Flynn stresses downtown is safe

MILWAUKEE -- It was a typical Monday on Water Street as beer distributors replenished supplies after a busy St. Patrick's Day weekend. This past weekend, however, was not typical, after fights broke out Saturday night on Water Street, and bars were forced to end St. Patrick's Day celebrations abruptly, by closing early. However, city leaders Monday stressed that Water Street and downtown Milwaukee are safe, and Saturday's relative lack of violence, considering the size of the crowds, proves that.

YouTube video shot by Steve White shows the fights that broke out among the large crowds in the street. Milwaukee police were on hand to intervene and disperse the crowds. Police say some threw bottles at police officers, and Water Street bars were forced to close early - some before the fights broke out.

Josh Janis is the co-owner of Red Rock Saloon and McGillycuddy's, and the president of the Water Street Association. He says he's talking with police about how to make one of Milwaukee's most popular entertainment districts safer. One idea is to block off the street on certain days when big crowds are expected, and those wanting to enter the district would need to show an ID.

"We did something like that for Halloween, where we blocked off the streets and we had zero problems. We had a bunch of entertainment on the street, and we had a live band. We had the Badgers game playing on a giant, inflatable TV and everyone enjoyed it," Janis said.

A year ago on St. Patrick's Day, there was a shooting with injury on Water Street. Last summer, Milwaukee police increased their presence in six entertainment districts, including Water Street. Janis said it was a successful pilot program.

Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and some Water Street business owners spoke Monday evening during a news conference on Water Street. They say the most important message from this weekend is to put things in perspective. Chief Flynn said the fight caught on video was not at all representative of what the celebrations were like. Flynn says the incident caught on YouTube video was one of over 600 calls for service Saturday night - which he says is not unusual for a warm, Saturday night. Flynn said police did their job in responding to the heavy crowds on Water Street, and the YouTube video doesn't fully reflect the atmosphere on Water Street Saturday night.

"There was a fist fight on Water Street on Saturday night. This does not qualify as news," Flynn said. "What is news is that we had 25,000 people on Water Street without any incident. More than 45,000 people were downtown. We had close to 60,000 people using downtown Milwaukee as a safe entertainment venue Saturday night. Milwaukee deserves better than to be represented by one incident that happened to be caught on tape," Chief Flynn said.

Chief Flynn said there were nine people arrested on Water Street Saturday, but many more than that arrested throughout the city Saturday night in other incidents. Flynn said there were six fights reported in the entire downtown area Saturday night. Flynn said putting that in perspective, tens of thousands of people gathered downtown, and security was a success. "We guaranteed a safe night for people, and we provided it. We hope many (people) want to return (to Water Street) for the Sweet 16 later this week. They're going to have a safe night, and the Milwaukee Police Department is going to see to it," Flynn said.

Flynn said there were 60 MPD officers in the Water Street area Saturday. He typically will not talk about numbers before events, but did hint police could change how they deal with crowd control for the Sweet 16.