The Madison Police Department has long enjoyed a reputation as a national leader in progressive policing with an emphasis on problem solving and community engagement. Nowhere is this more pronounced than in the vibrant relationship building that is taking place in a number of neighborhoods throughout our City.
Neighborhood officers, unlike those assigned to patrol services, are not call-driven. As a result, officers like me who are assigned to a cluster of neighborhoods are not seen only when there is a sense of urgency and/or crisis. We can be proactive, collaborative, and creative in teaming up with constituents to face a host of issues beyond the traditional definition of law enforcement.
As neighborhood officers, we provide mentoring, assist in addressing quality of life issues, stage community building events, and can access city services in a more streamlined capacity to meet the needs of our neighbors. Our mission as neighborhood officers is similar to that of "social workers with a badge" as our Chief likes to say.
When neighborhood police officers become a thread in the fabric of the community, their sense of dedication to building a vital, cohesive community increases many times over. Problem solving begins to happen when a community and its neighborhood police partners recognize the vested interest that they each share in the neighborhood.
Regrettably, owing to a combination of factors which drive resource allocation, our presence in the neighborhoods had diminished to some extent over the years. At its peak in 2002, the Madison Police Department had assigned 15 officers as full time neighborhood police officers. By 2014, we ended the year with only 10 full time neighborhood officers.
When Chief Koval took office in April of 2014, he first surveyed the command staff of our five districts in assessing the quality of life issues of Madison's various neighborhoods. Each of the district captains cited numerous instances of neighborhoods that were beginning to demonstrate telltale signs of dysfunction and increased calls for service. As Chief Koval has often stated at community forums, one of the litmus tests he applies in forecasting the future of Madison as it relates to crime, lies in analyzing the health and wellness of our various neighborhoods. So it came as no surprise when the focal point of Chief Koval's first budget process was to reestablish a greater presence in our neighborhoods. Thanks to the support of citizens and city leaders, we have been able to reinvigorate our cadre of neighborhood officers. Officially known as Neighborhood Resource Officers (NRO), in 2015 the department added five NROs, one in each policing district, to the duties of neighborhood policing.
We have just completed our first year of the NRO program. Each of our district commanders have reported to the chief's office on the work of the NROs. These five reports are especially interesting in that they show us that the work of the NROs is as varied as the police districts in which they serve. NROs are tasked to deal with the unique challenges specific to each district that best fits their needs.
Some examples of problem solving and community building over the past year are:
- Landlord/tenant training and relationship building
- Neighborhood Resource Team membership
- Middle and elementary school Lunch-With-a-Cop program
- Community Restorative Court support
- Community garden development
- Support for merchants' association
- Teen girl's empowerment initiative
- Attention to chronic nuisance properties
There are many, many more examples of strong, healthy connections made with our neighborhoods. The common element in each of these ventures is the consistent personal presence and accessibility of these officers to residents and other community partners. It should be noted that there is a competitive process for officers to obtain an NRO position. The expectation of the Chief is that we make a multi-year commitment and will flex our hours and days to best meet the needs of our neighborhoods. For all intent and purposes, our overriding mission is to build relationships and to become known as the face of the MPD beyond the badge.
We know that our work will likely always be driven by the necessity to respond to 911 calls. Our patrol officers are second to none in responding to those calls. On the other hand, the neighborhood officer and neighborhood resource officer programs, by the nature of their flexibility and investment of time to the community, have the ability to reduce overall calls for service, the opportunity to provide support to citizens after a 911 event and a dedication to help increase a sense of community safety in their neighborhoods. We are very pleased with the first year accomplishments of our NROs and look forward to many more successes to come.
For more information on the Neighborhood Resource Officer program or the year end district reports, contact the chief's office at 608-266-4022 or email@example.com.
This blog was authored by PO David J Dexheimer