The Madison Common Council voted to appropriate an additional $166,000 of the 2020 operating budget to hiring three new police officers, as opposed to the initially proposed six, at their meeting on Tuesday evening. Additionally, the council denied a new ambulance to the fire department.
The meeting itself was largely characterized by citizens voicing their concerns regarding the declining resources afforded to Madison’s emergency services in Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway’s operating budget.
In particular, dozens of firefighters and police officers spoke at the meeting, describing the lack of funding allocated to their respective departments in the budget and the potentially negative implications on the services which they provide — especially as Madison expands as a city.
Ald. Mike Verveer, District 4, also highlighted safety concerns he hears from downtown residents.
“Times are really tough for our officers,” Verveer said. “That’s why they’re resigning at record pace. I think the least we can do is show our support for them by adding three additional positions.”
Mahlon Mitchell, President of the Firefighters of Wisconsin organization, and several other members of Madison’s fire services asked the city council for an additional ambulance to supplement their fleet of only eight vehicles.
According to Mitchell, in its current state, Madison’s emergency medical teams have only one ambulance for every 32,000 citizens. He went on to state the lack of emergency vehicles can severely limit the number of calls the department can respond to, possibly leading to situations where an injured person is unable to receive medical attention for prolonged periods of time.
Council President Ald. Shiva Bidar, District 5, said she cannot support the amendment because of the proposed cuts, according to the Cap Times.
“I don’t see a path forward to do it in the 2020 budget,” Bidar said. “I know it deeply saddens every one of us not to do more.”
Madison Police Department officers spoke in a similar manner to emergency responders at the council meeting. They reported their department was stretched thin, noting a lack of incoming personnel damaging MPD’s policing ability, while also lowering morale among officers.
The Madison community could begin to feel the ramifications of these cutbacks as soon as February. Twelve officers currently serving in community policing roles will be reassigned to regular patrolling positions, potentially limiting interpersonal connections between law enforcement and citizens.
These cutbacks to law enforcement come at a time of increased crime in the city — leaving police officers feeling particularly shorthanded, as expressed at Tuesday’s meeting.
The new MPD officers would start police academy training in May 2020 and have an annualized cost to the city of $268,200. As for a new ambulance, Bidar stated her commitment to working on a plan to secure a ninth ambulance in 2021.
The Fire Department stated that it’s not soon enough.
“What we’re asking is you adequately staff the Madison Fire Department, so we can do our jobs,” Mitchell said.