WHITEWATER — The Whitewater Common Council heard an update on this year’s Spring Splash event from police chief Aaron Raap Tuesday, and in general, the event was not as disorderly this year as in some previous years.
This year’s Spring Splash took place on Saturday, May 4.
Previously, the event designated as Spring Splash — which is aimed at college students and college-aged individuals — was organized and promoted on social media by a company called Wisconsin Red. The event was neither endorsed by the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater nor the city. Wisconsin Red sponsored the Spring Splash events as a celebration of the arrival of warm weather and near-end of the semester outdoor party in Whitewater between 2013 and 2016, with few problems.
However, in 2016, an unexpectedly large number of people became publicly inebriated and caused problems for other students and nonstudent residents, as well as the Whitewater Police Department. Problems included public drunkenness, disorderly conduct and large-scale litter.
The high-level of arrests and damage done by participants while intoxicated led to the city forming a committee to investigate how to handle future large-scale events. Due to the public outrage and media coverage, Wisconsin Red pulled its formal sponsorship of Spring Splash in 2017.
While there were no formal, organized events in 2017, such as outdoor dance parties with deejays, for example, there still were many house parties promoted through social media. Another non-centralized, non-sponsored celebration took place in April 2018.
At its March 19 meeting, Raap informed the council of precautions the city was taking prior to the return of the event on Saturday, May 4. He announced, for example, that assisting the Whitewater and campus police were personnel from the Jefferson and Walworth county sheriff’s offices, the Wisconsin State Patrol and even the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.
On Tuesday, Raap provided a brief update to the council Tuesday how this year’s Spring Splash played out — while there were some expected issues incumbent to any large-scale college party, but this year was less rambunctious than some previous years.
“This is a `high-level’ after-action report,” Raap said. “The reason it is high-level is that we are only three days out, and are still compiling some figures.”
“We encountered large parties in houses and gatherings in years, primarily south and east of the university, although there were some scattered locations to the north,” he said.
The heaviest volume of outdoor activity was between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m., Raap said, noting that there was “a slow down of sorts” between 4-6 p.m. “Some house parties resumed, and the downtown bars began refilling. We saw that between 7:30 p.m. and the bar closing time of 2:30 a.m.”
Raap said that there were “large patrols” from all of the agencies working together, and he thanked all of them for their participation this year.
“There were no reported injuries to law enforcement, and there was no significant use of force by law enforcement,” Raap said. “We are still assembling data to include calls for service numbers, arrests, and citations. We will also include overtime tabulations.”
The chief added that he received several complimentary emails and phone calls from citizens about how the police handle the event this year. Raap also specifically thanked the city’s “external partners,” including other law enforcement agencies, city staff members, and the university staff and students who organized and volunteered for clean-up duty. “It turns out much of the clean-up actually took place on Saturday,” Raap said. “That is an anomaly from previous years.”
Council members Carol McCormick, Jim Allen and Brienne Brown all said that they noticed a huge difference this year. Brown specifically said her home was “flanked” by about 500 students; she went over to talk to the students and they all said that they had gotten the messages about fines for littering.
“I want to say thank you for getting out that message, because they got it,” she said.
Afterwards, Raap commented further about Saturday’s Spring Splash being less rambunctious this year.
“I think it was surprising given how late it was in the year and the good weather we experienced,” he said. “I think it is this way everywhere as police departments, cities and universities learn, as time goes on, how to better handle situation. Certainly, a part of this is attributable to good planning and cooperative work.”
In other matters Tuesday, the council:
• Heard an update on the Irvin L. Young Memorial Library’s strategic plan from library director Stacey Lunsford. The goals of the five-year plan are building toward the future; be a center for learning and connecting, inside the building and out; engage in effective communication; and strengthening partnerships.
She added that the library board wanted a “simple and easy to remember” mission statement; that mission statement is “We will have the space and the stuff to do the things that you want.”
• Approved, on the recommendation of the Planning and Architectural Review Commission, creating an
R-2A Residential Overlay District zoning classification for two properties, 231 and 243 S. Janesville Street, for Ceranske Property Management.
The new R-2A zone will allow up to four unrelated people to live at the 231 address and up to five unrelated people at the 243 address. Both locations were previously zoned R-2 one- and two-family residential areas.
• Heard city manager Cameron Clapper read the annual proclamations declaring May as Historic Preservation Month and as Archaeology Month.
• After the regular meeting Tuesday, the council convened into a closed session without reconvening into another public meeting. According the council’s agenda, the items to be discussed were “negotiations on the possible purchase” of properties located at 292 S. Wisconsin St., and 406 and 412 W. Whitewater St.