Be Careful Out There
February 1, 2009 7:48 AM
On Friday evening I had the pleasure of congratulating the newly minted police officers who had just graduated from the police academy. It's always an exciting moment for the new officers and their families. This year it's especially significant as we are adding more new officers then ever before thanks to the Council's passage of the 2008 budget. What I always try to emphasize to the new officers is that fighting crime is a whole community responsibility, not just theirs. Here are my remarks.
Good evening. On behalf of all Madisonians I want to congratulate you on completing the academy. You have received the best and most advanced training available and I want to thank the command staff and the training staff for another job well done. We're proud of all of you.
It has been my pleasure to work with Chief Wray and the command staff for the last several years. I believe it is not too much of an exaggeration to say that we have had the best working relationship between a mayor's office and police department leadership in recent history.
Now, there will be those who will say that this is damning with faint praise (there have been some somewhat rocky relationships between mayors and police chiefs in the past), but nonetheless, I have great respect for the Chief and his team and I look forward to working with him for many years into the future.
And I also enjoy meeting the rank and file police officers on the beat. During my six years in office I've had the opportunity to ride along with patrol officers all over the city. During those ride alongs I have never seen an officer reach for his gun or chase down a bad guy.
But I have seen an officer mitigate a dispute between neighbors who just weren't talking.
I have witnessed an officer work with a bar owner whose establishment was overcapacity, gently getting him to reduce the number of people in his bar to avoid conflicts later in the evening.
I have been with an officer when he sat for a half hour with an elderly couple who were frightened by a late night knock on their door.
I have never witnessed firsthand a Madison police officer solve a crime, but I have watched as they have prevented many minor problems from escalating into major ones. And that's better. It doesn't make for great television, but it is much better to prevent a crime than it is to solve one.
So, much of what you will do as Madison police officers is really about helping people and building a community. Some of what you do will be less about protecting people directly and more about helping people protect themselves and each other.
Your jobs will be complex and challenging.
You will have to know how to use a gun, but also how to comfort a child after an accident.
You will have to know how to drive a squad car in a high speed chase, but you will have to be a diplomat when confronted with a citizen who believes he shouldn't have been pulled over for not yielding to a pedestrian.
You will have to sit through daily briefings, but you will also have to sit through neighborhood meetings. (With luck, you will not have to sit through a city council meeting. Let the chief and I shield you from that.)
You are part of the largest single influx of new officers in Madison history. Thirty additional positions were created in the 2008 budget. This was in response to wide spread community concern about crime.
But as Chief Wray and I sat through a half dozen neighborhood meetings on public safety in the summer of 2008 we noticed that much of what we heard was not really about crime per se or even about police work. We heard about a changing community that demands deeper understanding among all of us and lots of dialogue among neighbors, policy makers, social workers, business leaders, public school officials and, sometimes but not always, the police.
Madison is one of the safest communities in America. Crime is down by 50% from what it was almost twenty years ago and the latest figures will show a further reduction in the last year. Still, crime will never go away - and probably shouldn't go away - as a public concern.
Our job - yours and mine - is to keep the public safe by increasing public understanding of the complexity of the problem and to build support for a comprehensive approach that has to involve everyone. Not just the police department and sometimes not even primarily the police department, but everyone of goodwill in our community.
So, you out competed hundreds of applicants to get into the academy and now you've completed the academy. You've put up with everything anyone should have to from Mike Koval.
This evening you will become full-fledged Madison police officers. I ask you to live up to everything that has come to mean in the past few decades. Be strong. Be smart. Be patient. Be understanding. Be diplomatic. Be full members of your community. And above all, be careful out there.