The City is drawing close to assembling and finalizing a budget for 2017. Soon, the Common Council and Mayor will grapple with the compelling needs of our community; trying to create a template in which the immediate concerns of today are balanced with an eye toward anticipated priorities that loom large. I do not envy the daunting task(s) at hand for our policy makers but I do believe that essential services---like police and fire protection--must continue to chart at the top of any lists or discussions. Madison enjoys being recognized for so many "best of" plaudits. I believe that our consistent "rankings" are due, at least in part, to quality of life bench marks--- in which our police department plays a seminal role. So this blog will be my last attempt during the 2017 budget process to restate why it is important for Madison to show its commitment to public safety issues now.
We all know that the Midtown District Station has been a bone of contention. The Mayor does not believe the timing is right for fiscal reasons while the Council voted for it with one unequivocal voice (20-0 vote in November, 2015). Rather than continue the heated discussions on "when" Midtown should be up and running, I prefer to stake my claims on "why" this project and staffing it are still important.
Our proud history as a Department is rooted in the notion that "community policing" is the best mechanism for cultivating trust and working toward collaborative problem solving. The cops cannot go it alone; we are reliant on partnerships with constituents, not-for-profits, businesses, academia, and other government agencies in order to provide qualitative services. Dating back to the Flint (Michigan) experiment a number of decades ago, it is clear that getting closer to our communities and neighborhoods with both officers and infrastructure (i.e., districts or substations) provides improved access and greater participation in enhancing the places where we live, work, and play. Ask those residents who already have a district station closer to where they live-- people like having the police embedded in their neighborhood(s); it is more timely in providing direct services for their needs, it provides a greater sense of security, consistency, and acquired knowledge of the unique challenges of the area served, it offers greater efficiencies, provides a community gathering space for groups, will improve police visibility, and (most importantly) can result in a more comprehensive response when not a part of an overburdened/stretched too thin district which has not kept pace with growth (i.e., the West Police District).
When tasked to prepare a budget (both capital and operating expenses), Department or division heads were told to craft a thoughtful product that would place an emphasis on "equity" issues. I believe we have framed a budget that embraces this objective in a tangible way. The West Police District has grown to be so large that it would be the fifth largest stand-alone city in Wisconsin! By way of demonstration:
~WPD serves a population of 83,000+ (about 1/3 of the City)
~WPD covers about 28 square miles (about 1/3 of the City)
~WPD has 330 miles of roadway/60 parks/17 public schools
~WPD was built in 2001 for 58 employees; because of growth, there are currently 90+ employees working out of this facility
This growth has created a police service equity concern. Frankly, the West Police District is so large that its residents do not receive the same level of service(s) that the other parts of our City gets due to sheer numbers. For example, when a Mental Health Officer in the North district is prioritizing workload and contacts, it is easier to reconcile access when there are 30,000+ customers when compared with the Mental Health Officer in the West district! Apply that same "numbers" game to deploying community policing teams (CPT's) who respond to the daily dynamics of "hot spots" or quality of life problems. This provides a snapshot of the problem and this trend will only get worse with continued delays.
Some have urged just shifting or reallocation of personnel. That is tantamount to rearranging the chairs on the Titanic. In June of this year, the Mayor directed the MPD, City Engineering and City Finance (among others) to develop alternatives to meet the space needs of the Department without construction of Midtown. The findings? The West, South, Central, and North districts are already at/over capacity; only East has some margin for adding a few more people but we are in the midst of an ever-increasing growth spurt that suggests East will be in the same situation that the rest of the Districts are already facing.
Delaying the building of Midtown will only add additional costs to construction. Delaying on staffing issues for Midtown (and beyond) will only create greater challenges as our City is experiencing steady growth; the Mayor has inasmuch stated that we are now a community of 250,000 and are gaining approximately 262 new residents per month. We also average an additional 121,000+ who commute to Madison on a daily basis (US Census Bureau). Clearly, we cannot sleep on these numbers. The strategy to "kick the can" down the road and postpone difficult decisions about our community's public safety issues is not an effective strategy . . .it merely makes the challenges that much more profound for our future.