Dozens of Madison residents, many of them students, registered to speak against an amendment to increase the Madison Police Department’s presence in the downtown area during Tuesday’s City Council meeting regarding the 2021 Capital and Operating Budget.
The meeting closed without a vote on the proposal, as the Council chose to recess until Wednesday afternoon before continuing deliberation.
Students on campus and off registered in numbers to speak against Amendment 10, a proposal made by Ald. Harrington-McKinney, District 1, and Ald. Henak, District 10, to accept a grant to create the “Downtown Entertainment Zone team,” which would amend the Police Department-Police Field budget. If added to the budget, the amendment would create four new police officer positions and reclassify one police officer position to a Sergeant.
If the amendment passes, $347,580 would need to be appropriated for grant-related expenses. The city would also need to pay $586,600 over three years despite the grant only covering $500,000. Madison would resume paying the full cost of salaries, $390,423, starting in 2024.
Many speakers pointed out that the council’s addition to the budget failed to recognize the long-term effects of the added positions to the MPD, essentially serving as a long-term investment in policing Downtown.
Matthew Mitnick, the Chair of the Associated Students of Madison and member of the Madison Public Safety Review Committee, spoke on the issues associated with providing additional funding for a department that so many residents are wary of, especially when mandatory furloughs for city employees are also proposed for the budget.
“Anyone who votes on this is just disregarding the entire community and insulting every person who has come out to a protest and voiced their concerns with police in this city,” Mitnick said. “This grant is an insult to all the other city departments that are having to take substantial cuts during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The Downtown team would be formed to “address violence, property crime, and quality of life issues” primarily in the State Street area. However, as Mitnick pointed out, alders from the areas that would be affected by the additional policing did not take part in drafting the proposal or even support the amendment.
“This is an area that many students live in, and I don’t think students have been asked about this. I don’t think students would be in favor of this,” Mitnick said.
Juliana Bennett, a UW-Madison student and Madison native, spoke in opposition of the added positions while sharing her experiences with the MPD when she came forward as a victim of sexual assault in 2018.
“These safety measures we call 'policing' overlooked my problem,” she said. “I called the Madison Police to help me, and after explaining the situation and the safest manner for me to leave, the Madison Police office said, ‘We can’t help you.’”
Bennet stated that the years of public education and steadily increasing MPD budget has not improved the police department’s performance in the community
“Let’s not forget Tony Robinson, a Black teen in Madison that was murdered by an officer that is still employed — Matt Kenny — for experiencing a mental health crisis,” Bennett said. “The police are too incompetent, insensitive and incapable of having jurisdiction to provide safety for the general public.”
While a majority of registered speakers spoke against the amendment, some residents supported the item, claiming that a solution was needed for crime taking place on State Street. However, several of those registered speakers were listed as living outside the Downtown area.
The meeting moved to recess at 11:11 p.m., after nearly five and a half hours of public testimony. City Council will reconvene Wednesday, Nov. 11 at 5:30 p.m. to continue deliberation on the Capital and Operating Budget.