The Madison Common Council voted 11-8 Tuesday to make the parking enforcement division of the Madison Police Department into its own independent agency.
The measure — which barely obtained the minimum of 11 votes necessary to be adopted — is expected to be completed before the end of 2023, according to a study of Madison’s 2021 budget. The decision falls in line with recent calls for divestment from traditional police agencies and was made just several hours after eight recently elected alders were sworn into office.
Traditionally, the parking enforcement division — which is made up of 31 full time officers — has been a branch of the MPD. Officers in this division are able to act as law enforcement in certain situations and access the same criminal databases available to police.
Following the separation, parking enforcement will maintain their ability to issue citations and impound vehicles. However, officers will no longer be able to intervene in cases involving stolen or wanted vehicals or missings persons and will no longer have access to the same criminal databases available to local police.
Separating the two agencies is expected to be more costly than keeping parking enforcement as part of the MPD, a report by the City’s Department of Transportation found. The exact extent of the additional cost is currently unknown.
Ald. Keith Furman, Dis. 19, who voted in favor of the transfer, stated that he feels this motion is a positive development for public safety in the Madison area, and voiced his opinion that parking enforcement officers should not be ingrained in law enforcement.
“I believe strongly that the parking enforcement officers don’t belong as part of our police department,” Furman said. “I truly believe we need to continue to reimagine public safety and this is certainly a step along that way.”
Furman’s sentiments were echoed by other alders — including Arvina Martin, Dis. 11, who expressed her general support for removing funding from programs associated directly with the MPD that she feels are unnecessary.
"I believe that we should be taking things out of the police department's purview that don’t have to be there," said Martin.
Charles Myadze, who recently replaced incumbent Rebecca Kemble as the Dis. 18 alder, voiced his opinion that he feels the decision to separate the two agencies is largely a symbolic gesture that fails to fix any meaningful problem.
“I was just sitting here thinking about two things, a lot of people covered a lot, but two questions came to my mind: is this a political, symbolic move or is there a problem that we’re trying to fix here,” Myadze said.
Ald. Brian Benford, Dis. 6, voiced a similar opinion, stating that he feels the Common Council’s decision fails to actually account for improvements to public safety and will be an unnecessary financial burden in the future.
"I didn't hear that this was going to make our community safer," Benford said. "I didn't hear that we were going to save lots of money down the road. I just heard lots of questions."
Aileen Seymour, a parking enforcement officer of 10 years, additionally voiced her concerns about feeling less safe without the protection and access to information from police databases.
“We are parking enforcement officers,” Seymour said. “We are here for the community, and we would appreciate your support in not just making a move to shake things up.”