Residents voiced their concerns over Madison Police Department’s proposed budget at the city’s Finance Committee meeting Monday night, citing anxieties over added funding to hire six new officers.
In the proposed executive operating budget, public safety and health services are set to receive $163 million of the city’s $382 million available funds. Last year, the sector received just under $156 million, making this year’s proposal a 4.7% increase.
A contentious aspect of the police budget is the addition of the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) grant to hire six new officers as a means of “improving upon the existing legitimacy and trust-building efforts in the community,” according to the budget summary. MPD was awarded the federal COPS grant in November 2021, but just under $95,000 of the city’s executive budget will be allocated to match it.
While the city’s match makes up a small portion of the executive budget, District 15 resident Larissa Duncan pointed out taxpayers will have to pay more over time, expressing concern about the COPS grant.
“The city will soon have to pay the entire salaries for these six new positions in just a few years at a cost of half a million dollars,” Duncan noted at the Monday meeting.
At the meeting, MPD Police Chief Shon Barnes said the proposed budget is in line with community expectations, noting evidence-based approaches and community input were taken into account. Barnes said the three main objectives of the COPS program’s six new officers will be to serve as liaisons between MPD and the community, create community engagement programming and promote non-custodial options when dealing with youth.
“The research is clear. The more interactions with enforcement that juveniles have, the more likely they are to re-offend,” Barnes explained. “These officers are specifically designed to assure that … if there is a diversion method for juveniles, that we do that.”
District 6 resident Amy Washbush was one of several community members to speak out against the budget at Monday’s public hearing. Washbush believes MPD’s proposed budget “insults” the community and is not in line with the interests of the surrounding area.
“These grant funds are set to be used to double down on ineffective police youth initiatives that do not prevent or rather increase citation, arrests and incarceration,” Washbush said. “Our youth deserve better.”
Sol Kelley-Jones, a District 10 resident, spoke out specifically about the COPS grant, saying the funding should go towards alternatives to policing that uplift public safety.
“I don’t want to see us continuing business as usual,” Kelley-Jones said. “I want to see that we are listening to our most vulnerable residents who continue to be marginalized, centering the needs and the calls of those most impacted and charting a new course as a city.”
Duncan said the COPS program’s goal of improving police legitimacy resembles a public relations stunt.
“We know that those interactions with youth by police do lead to brown and Black children being criminalized in a city where we have some of the worst racial disparities in the entire nation,” Duncan said. “We do not want more police in our neighborhoods surrounding our schools. We want more neighborhood resources.”
Several residents cited Freedom Inc.’s Madison People’s Budget, a report that conveys a lack of alignment between residents’ needs and the city’s budget priorities. Freedom Inc.’s 2021 survey found that, despite the largest portion of the city’s budget going to police services, residents would rather prioritize funding for city development, including housing and planning.
“We do not want more police in our neighborhoods surrounding our schools. We want more neighborhood resources,” Duncan said.
The Common Council will meet from Nov. 15 to Nov. 17 to vote on and adopt the final executive operating budget for 2023.