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Memo: 5 percent cut would put public safety in peril

Empower Wisconsin | July 23, 2020

By M.D. Kittle 

MADISON  — Would-be murderers shot up an East Side Madison home early Monday morning. No one was hurt, but it was the latest of many violent incidents hitting a city whose liberal leaders are proud players in the “defund police” movement. 

Internal city documents obtained by Empower Wisconsin shows how dangerous deep cuts to the law enforcement budget would be. 

Acting Chief Victor Wahl recently prepared the Madison Police Department 2021 Operating Budget proposal  using Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway’s mandate that MPD trim its expenses by 5 percent. 

The proposal isn’t pretty. 

In short, cutting $4.2 million from the department’s $82 million budget would necessitate the elimination of dozens of policing positions, slow response times, and end the equity programs that the defund crowd has been clamouring for. 

“Even in a ‘normal’ year, the impact of a 5% cut to MPD’s budget would be significant. The department would take major steps backwards in a variety of key areas,” Wahl wrote. 

Police officers have served on the frontlines of an unprecedented pandemic and have booked long hours trying to keep the peace at massive protests that have periodically turned disorderly and violent — led in many instances by people who openly hate them. 

Wahl said police are already dealing with attrition and squeezed resources. 

“The events of 2020 have put an unprecedented strain on the men and women of MPD, exceeding the department’s capacity” the acting chief wrote. “Virtually all MPD personnel have been focused on essential activities, and most specialized functions have been suspended.” 

“Had we been operating with a 5% smaller budget (as outlined above), the department simply would not have been able to address the issues faced by the City during this period.”

Cop cuts 

A 5 percent reduction would require the elimination of 26 sworn position, nine full-time civilian positions and 57 hourly positions, according to the proposal. 

“The commissioned cuts would be to multiple ranks and would decimate the department’s ability to deliver service and support public safety,” Wahl wrote. 

MPD would have to get rid of its Community Outreach section, including the program’s captain, the entire Community Outreach and Resource Education (CORE) unit, and the Mental Health unit. 

“This cut would drastically reduce MPD’s capacity to engage the public and build trust with the community,” the chief wrote. It would also jettison some of the same mental health and equity initiatives that progressive leaders have pushed in recent years.

For instance, the CORE team works on the department’s efforts to reduce disproportionate arrests related to “racial disparities” and improve trust and “perception of fairness.” It coordinates all of MPD’s restorative justice efforts and a majority of outreach programming to underprivileged youth. 

The budget cut would also force the elimination of the Special Investigations Unit, comprised of two detectives who work with multiple law enforcement agencies to tackle violent crime, a category clearly on the rise in Madison. 

There would be no MPD-led crossing guard program. Community members complained a few years ago when the intersection along East Washington Avenue went unstaffed for a while because of attrition. The service was ultimately restored. 

“While the temporary loss of a crossing guard at a single intersection demonstrated an adverse impact on the community, the implications will be much greater if the entire program is eliminated,” Wahl wrote. 

Growing city, growing problems

As the policing resources decline, the city is undergoing a significant growth spurt. In 2022, Madison will absorb 90 percent of the neighboring Town of Madison. The town has a full-time police department. MPD will need an additional 13 officers to serve the new jurisdiction. 

“Significant cuts to MPD’s 2021 budget would result in MPD not having a pre-service academy in 2021, and leave us with insufficient resources to adequately take on policing in the Town,” Wahl wrote. 

Gone, too, would be training and support programs such as the employee wellness check (mental-health checkups for police officers). 

Most alarming, a 5 percent budget cut would lead to reduced patrol staffing levels. 

“I anticipate that MPD officers will no longer respond to a number of specific incident types in the event a 5% budget cut is implemented,” Wahl wrote.

That means reduced police visibility, delayed response times, and less traffic enforcement. 

Kelly Powers, president of the Madison Professional Police Officers Association, says morale is already low on the force. 

“That stands to reason. They don’t feel like they’re supported from their government, and they don’t feel like the level of support from command is where it needs to be,” Powers said. 

As morale and resources sink, Powers warns there will be more officers, particularly younger officers and veteran cops at the point of retirement, exiting the force. 

He said he hopes Madison’s ‘silent majority” steps up and calls on leaders to adequately fund public safety and stand up against the “defund the police” movement. 

For now it appears the Madison City Council is divided on the question.

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