Madison Policing at a Crossroads

by Safety Connection

“You look like a REAL LIVE police officer!!” That’s what a thrilled little boy shouted to a Madison Police neighborhood officer this morning before that officer took a few minutes of his time to encourage some kids from a local daycare to race him down the hill. That little boy probably told all his friends that he got to meet and have fun with that “real live police officer”, and that’s what community policing is all about—building positive relationships one person at a time.

Sadly this is something we are losing in Madison. Officers are spending more and more time doing reactive policing (40 minutes of every hour–plus 8 min of administrative work leaving 12 minutes for proactive/community policing). This is according to the last staffing report that was done (in 2019) that showed MPD was short by about 20 officers. Since that study, MPD has lost an unprecedented number of officers to retirements and resignations, and that trend continues this year (another officer quit this week).

Starting in a week and through November, the Common Council and Mayor will decide the 2022 budget. All city agencies were asked to show what a 5% cut would look like. For MPD that would mean a loss of up to 36 sworn officer positions. That would require the department to dissolve most of the specialty officers who are not call-driven and can spend time solving problems and building relationships and trust with residents (neighborhood officers, mental health officers, CORE Team). It would also include cutting the remainder of the Traffic Enforcement Safety Team—officers devoted to speed enforcement. And MPD would have to give up detective positions. All of this would need to happen to shore up patrol services.

In addition, the next recruit academy would be cancelled, and Madison would not see any new officers on the street (even officers to cover continued retirements and resignations) until February 2024. Why? It takes about a year to train a Madison Police officer. The state requires 720 hours of training for law enforcement officers, but the Madison Police Department teaches their recruits almost 200 additional hours of training.

Making the staffing shortage worse, in 2022 the Town of Madison will dissolve, and police services will be picked up by Madison and Fitchburg Police. Madison will receive 5000 new residents in an area that has a high volume of calls for police services. Currently the Town staffs 14 full-time and 4 part-time officers.

This summer MPD has even had difficulties meeting hard minimum staffing levels. That means officers have been asked to stay over 4 extra hours on shifts (or come in early) or volunteers are needed to come in on days off just to meet the minimum number of officers required to safely staff the city (for the day shift the hard minimum is 25 officers for the whole city). Read that again. MPD is having trouble staffing just 25 officers. What does that mean for you? Dispatchers have to prioritize which calls MPD has the resources to respond to. You may have to wait longer when you call the police or be asked to file a self-report. Don’t take our word for it, get a police radio app and listen to the dispatchers who are telling officers that a caller has been waiting 45 minutes or an hour or longer for their call to be answered.

A loss of any number of sworn officers in the 2022 budget will have a huge impact on the quality of service residents will receive from our police department.

Last year during the budget season fewer than 30 people in our entire city of 269,000 took the time to show up to the committee or council meetings to ask that MPD’s budget not be cut further or to ask for officers to be added to the understaffed department.

This council and mayor are more interested in solving root causes of crime which is a laudable goal but which could take a long time with lots of trial and error, and should not come at the expense of our police who are responding to the shots-fired, property crime, and reckless driving calls that are coming in right NOW as you are reading this.

If you don’t want MPD to lose more officers or resources, you will want to make your voice heard this budget season. Thirty people are not going to sway this council.

You can contact the alders at:

You can contact the Mayor at:

The Mayor will release her Operating Budget on October 5th and that’s when we’ll find out what cuts she is targeting for our Police Department.

On October 11th the Common Council Finance Committee will make decisions about what will be sent to the full Council to be included in the final 2022 budget. That’s when you have a chance to offer your input through public comment (and also send additional emails).

On November 9th (and 10th and 11th if necessary) the Common Council will convene to discuss any amendments and pass the final 2022 budget. November 9th is also an opportunity to make YOUR VOICE heard through public comments.

Progressive policing in Madison is at a crossroads during a time when police calls are getting longer and more complicated (in part because of increased de-escalation techniques being used), and violent crime is increasing (compared to 2019 which was a record year).  

Meanwhile Madison added more than 36,000 residents over the last decade, apartment buildings are popping up in just about every neighborhood and your property taxes continue to go up.

Do you want the Madison Police Department to continue to be nationally recognized and attract top-notch recruits? Most officers in the department have a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree and many have doctorates and law degrees. They have the education and skills that could be used in many different careers, but they chose to put on bullet-proof vests every day and risk their lives for yours.

How many will continue to do that if they don’t feel safe on the job because there aren’t enough officers to safely handle calls? And what kind of recruits will the city attract if it’s an entirely reactive police force that only gets to interact with residents when they are hurt, or frightened or are having one of the worst days of their lives?

NOW IS THE TIME to contact your alders and the mayor and tell them you want a fully-staffed and adequately-funded police department.

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