Chief Koval's Blog

Midtown Is Off the Grid?!?!

September 1, 2015 3:20 PM

At the outset of my remarks, I want to express my empathy for the rigorous challenges facing the Mayor and Common Council as they begin the painful process of budgeting for the City's needs in 2016 and beyond.  I have taken the time to listen to the Mayor and his Chief Financial Officer as they have painted a bleak picture of fiscal gloom and doom;  a narrative not begun under his watch but it's his problem now and forevermore.   And I will stipulate that tough decisions have to be made under austere circumstances, in order for us to keep our AAA bond rating and to get our financial house in order.

With the release of Mayor Soglin's executive capital budget plan today, I was disappointed and chagrined to learn that the proposed Midtown District station, originally scheduled to be constructed and opened sometime in 2017, had literally been pushed out beyond 2021!  Yes, you will see continued funding for our upgrade radio project and $728,000 for Midtown.  But I want people to note that the money earmarked for Midtown is NOT additional funding.  This is a portion of the funding that was authorized in 2015 and carried over to 2016.

But time brooks no delay when it comes to matters of public safety.  This is one "can" that cannot be kicked down the road with hollow promises of getting "caught up" when times are better economically and the City is better-prepared to build.  According to Wikipedia, Madison is currently the 83rd largest city in the United States with a population of 245,691.  Conservative estimates suggest that this trend will continue into 2016 at which point our City will be over 250,000.  With the moniker of being a "big" city comes big city challenges associated with gangs, gun violence, AODA-related issues, domestic violence and mental-health issues . . .all of which require more strategic planning using existing resources, triaging where those resources are most needed and looking at response times (i.e. proximity in bringing resources to the incident).

My predecessor (Chief Noble Wray) and his command staff were forward-thinking in addressing the concerns of an ever-expanding west side.  Starting back in 2007, planning was underway to meet the inevitable necessity of expanding services.  When I became chief in 2014, it could not have been more self-evident that the West District was in dire need of "back-up."  This District has grown to around 85,000 residents (more than 35% of the City), has 28 square mile (about one-third of the City), has more than 330 miles of roadway, 60 parks, and 17 public schools.  If the West District "seceded" from the rest of the City, it would be the 5th largest city in the State of Wisconsin.  There is a sense of urgency afoot since this District is currently shouldering about 26% of the City's patrol workload, about 31% of the City's reported Part 1 (significant) crimes, and the district station was built in 2001 for 58 employees (currently, we have 90+ employees working out of the West District Station and our building/parking lot is too small).  But the problem posed by not creating the Midtown District goes well beyond these logistical considerations.

As an agency committed to the proposition that community policing is our vanguard, we need to continue our efforts at decentralizing our agency and getting closer to the constituents we serve and for those who are being underserved.  Midtown would allow us to take on some of the burdens that are currently occurring not only to the West District but also to the South and, to a lesser extent, to the Central District(s).  It's location (4000 block of Mineral Point Road) will not only improve police visibility and response times, it will be a neighborhood resource with community access and allow us to engage in more problem solving initiatives that are specific to the needs of this area.

To the Mayor's credit, he understands this inevitability and took the laudable first step of endorsing the future Midtown site acquisition in order to better prepare for the City's future needs.  Kudos to him for moving beyond philosophical support and putting the City's money down as an investment on public safety!  For our part, we have met with the Council, answered questions at the Board of Estimates, energized our stakeholders with focus meetings so that they can participate in this exciting project, and secured through the budgetary process the endorsement and commitment of elected officials that this is a priority.  In short, MPD has responded to each and every request made of us, done our due diligence to make our case resonate, and moved forward with every expectation that this project had received the City's blessing.  Frankly,  we feel the public was sold a bill of goods (particularly those residents of the near west side) and now those expectations have been shattered.  When you are in the business of trying to generate "trust," this doesn't help matters. . . The Midtown project should move forward without delay and the station should open no later than sometime in 2017.

Midtown has always been marketed and "sold" as an urgently needed resource in and of itself.  Period.  But in what may be the worst kept secret in City Hall these days, there is more than rife speculation that there are those who want to accelerate the pace in which the Town of Madison is annexed into the City of Madison.  So let me see if I have this right . . .not only is the City NOT going to deliver on the stand-alone needs of the near west side of Madison, it is also appears intent on acquiring 80% of the Town's population base (they have a mix of commercial and residential property with over 3,000 housing units) and 93% of the Town's geographic area.  How are we going to respond to this addition unless the infrastructure is in place first?  Some say that Midtown could be up in 18 months if annexation were to occur . . .pardon my disbelief when the last 18 months have seen little or no movement whatsoever based upon timelines already established and not adhered to.

It has been well-established by now that as the "canary in the coal mine," my job as Chief is to passionately urge initiatives that will assist us in maintaining our advantage in matters of public safety.  At the end of the day, now that I have spoken on this matter, I am a good and respectful soldier who will get in line with whatever the Mayor and the Council deem to be the final word on spending priorities.  That is the nature of public discourse and debate and this is my attempt to advocate for something that I believe is important for Madison.  People won't enjoy the quality of life to be had in our City unless they feel safe, so I hope people will understand that my intent to advance this issue is of paramount concern in fulfilling my role as Chief.

Posted by: Chief Koval

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