Since my last blog on the subject of Midtown, I have been heartened by the incredible outpouring of support that we have received for this important public safety initiative. Not only will Midtown provide greater balance to our service distribution needs, the quality of those services rendered as well as response times to calls are going to be better achieved. As mentioned previously, this has been a project that dates back to 2007 and it is nigh time to seek resolution, particularly given the current and projected increases of population, land mass, and calls for service occurring on the west side. The issue becomes exacerbated with the anticipated annexation of the Town of Madison well before the original contract date of 2022.
I stipulated to the dire financial forecasts provided by the Mayor and the Chief Financial Officer. It will certainly mean some difficult choices in prioritizing where scarce resources should be allocated. Obviously, as a resident of the city and the Chief of Police, my argument is that none of the quality of life indices which we all hold dear can be fully realized unless/until people feel safe. If the major bus hub transfer points, the malls, the schools, the parks, the libraries, etc., carry a negative perception of being unsafe, then how can we hope to maximize our enjoyment (and the city's national reputation) of a community that is known to be a place of safety, a place where constituents and guests can come to live, work, and play?
We know that the Mayor is philosophically in support of Midtown. The same can be said for many alders. Yet I hear murmurs and rumblings on two fronts that cast a pall on this project moving forward. First, while it may be true that there is support for Midtown, there are some who are speculating that MPD has an insatiable appetite for more personnel that will never end. The second supposition--somewhat related to the first contention-- is that adding Midtown will create undue hardships on the City's operating expenses for years to come. This blog will attempt to provide some clarity as well as reality on these concerns.
The City of Madison population will likely reach 250,000 in 2016. This is significant as I have been asked how our personnel needs as a police department stack up using national benchmarks.
- When a city has reached a quarter of a million, data from the U. S. Department of Justice (2013) shows police departments in the Midwest region average 2.5 officers per 1,000 inhabitants. (The National average is 2.6 officers per 1,000 inhabitants).
- Applying the 2.5 ratio to MPD, we should arguably be at 625 officers. Our current authorized strength is 457, which is 168 officers short of the average.
- Milwaukee is at 3.1, Racine is at 2.5 per 1,000, and Madison is approximately 1.83.
While I am certainly not suggesting that compensating for this deficit can be accomplished overnight, it begs the question of whether the City understands the price and necessity for continued growth? Frankly, our workforce has been exceptional doing "more" with less but this stagnation adding officers is leveraging our future. I feel compelled to share this information to offset the urban myth that MPD has an overabundance of personnel.
Staffing is inextricably linked to Midtown. City officials claim support for the project but note that the operating expenses associated with the building makes it an untenable proposition. But whether you build it or not, the fact remains that we still need staff! Here are my basic "talking points" relative to the nexus of building Midtown AND advancing difficult discussions relative to staffing:
1. We must address the equity of service issue currently occurring in the West District. Given the size of the district and its population, the current facility will not support the number of officers required to be provide a service level consistent with the other four police districts.
2. There has to be a plan to address current critical staffing needs (we are currently down 43 commissioned positions if you "settle" for the 2.0/1,000 ratio)
3. We need to be strategic in examining additional response times and staffing requirements in anticipation of annexing the Town of Madison.
4. We need to have facilities that can accommodate additional staff while supporting our community policing efforts through decentralized services.
Curiously, some members of the Council seem troubled by the Department's aggressive pursuit of federal grants. Typically, a grant funds 50% of a position at the outset, the City picks up the other half, and over time assumes the remaining balance of the position (and ultimately the position is incorporated into the workforce). Were we to abandon our grants, quality-based services would suffer. Grants lead to a myriad of complementary services including, for example, neighborhood officers, youth outreach, and mental health resources. Our mission has always been to provide high quality, "premium" services, not just your "basic" cable.
Beyond the pale of "numbers" one fact remains, Madison is not one of the safest cities in the Nation by accident. It is the hard work and style of policing delivered by our officers and employees that enable us to enjoy the quality of life we have here in Madison. In order to keep our position of advantage in the many "quality of life" polls that place Madison among the best places in the nation, there has to be a long-term commitment to public safety through maintaining and building adequate infrastructures and keeping staffing competitive with population growth.