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Police academy

If approved by the City Council, eight new officers would start in the May 2018 police academy class and would be available to assign to patrol positions in January 2019. 

PHOTO BY SAIYNA BASHIR

The Madison City Council's Finance Committee recommended funding for eight new police officers, which police department officials say are needed to keep up with an increasing number of positions vacated by retiring officers.

If the funding is approved by the City Council, the new officers would start in the May 2018 police academy class and would be available to assign to patrol positions in January 2019. Madison Assistant Police Chief Sue Williams said the open positions include neighborhood and and Community Policing Team officers.  

“Having those officers in this class ready to hit the street at the beginning of the year to absorb the vacancies that occur from the retirement at the end of 2018 will be very beneficial,” Williams said.

The MPD’s 2018 budget includes $750,000 in matching funds for a community policing grant, which would have funded 15 patrol officers and five vehicles.

However, the MPD did not receive the grant. The resolution adopted by the Finance Committee Monday would amend the MPD’s budget to add $416,385 for eight new officers and $163,530 to buy three marked squad cars.

The ongoing annual cost for the eight officers is approximately $600,000 and $21,300 for the cars.

The remaining $170,085 of the budgeted match would be reallocated for future needs by the MPD.

Chief Mike Koval argued that a more competitive recruiting field due to fewer applicants and officers on family leave, military deployments and unforeseen injuries are reasons to increasing staffing.

“This is all part of the factoring of what we can and can’t foresee, which is why we feel it’s important to staff it up now,” Koval said.

Community members opposed to funding the positions argued that the decision should be delayed until the MPD Policy and Procedures Review Ad Hoc Committee discusses the 146 recommendations offered by the OIR Group in a lengthy report released in December.

The report observes that the MPD does not have a formal evaluation process for officers and lacks data on the effectiveness of patrol and specialized officers, including the community policing team and mental health officers.

“In our view, yearly performance evaluations should be reinstituted, and devising metrics with how Neighborhood Officers’ performance would be evaluated would assist in instilling concrete expectations of those officers,” the report reads.

Nathan Royko-Maurer, founding member of the Community Response Team, said additional officers could not be justified given the “startling” lack of evaluation and data.

“As a taxpayer I want to know what I’m paying for,” Royko-Maurer said. “The OIR report clearly exposes the alarming fact that the MPD doesn’t know what many of its officers are doing.”  

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Koval said the MPD is more interested in relationship- and trust-building aspects of community policing, upheld as a cornerstone of the department.

“How do you measure those sorts of intangibles?” Koval said.

The OIR report does not make any recommendations on police staffing. The City Council and the ad hoc committee plan to discuss the report with the OIR group Jan. 11 at 6 p.m. in room 201 of the City-County Building, 210 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.

Police staffing studies within the past ten years have shown a need for more officers. A 2016 department report suggested the city needed 13 more patrol officers and anywhere from 37 to 361 more officers overall. A data-driven staffing analysis by Etico in 2008 also demonstrated a need for additional patrol officers.

Mayor Paul Soglin said the frequency that officers are taking only the most serious calls and officer burnout “indicate that we have much to gain and in effect very little to lose" by funding the positions.

“If, as we look at the systems we implement to bring about public safety in this community, it turns out we have too many officers, … when we go to to approve the 2019 budget we can dial it down,” Soglin said.

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Abigail Becker joined The Capital Times in 2016, where she primarily covers city and county government. She previously worked for the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism and the Wisconsin State Journal.