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Community leader says Soglin prematurely announced rapid response team

Community leader says Soglin...

MADISON, Wis. - Madison Mayor Paul Soglin announced Wednesday that the city formed a rapid response team to help curb violence, but one community leaders says the announcement was premature.

Soglin said the team of trained civilians is meant to help get critical information and facilitate emergency services.

Michael Johnson, CEO of the Dane County Boys and Girls Club and a member of the Focused Interruption Coalition, believes the city is not prepared to launch an active team.

"I've told the mayor how I feel. I'll tell him in his face. But he needs to step up and he needs to do more," Johnson said.

Soglin said the program was used to respond to a shooting at a PDQ gas station on  East Washington Avenue Tuesday night. According to Johnson, he was one of  two community members at the hospital to provide help to the victim's family. Johnson said he and another member of the community were not there to represent the "rapid response team."

Gloria Reyes, deputy mayor for public safety, civil rights and community services, said she was there as a representative of the rapid response team.

"We are continuing to move forward in the best interest of our community on preventing and responding to violent crimes. At this point, we need our community to come together. We can not be divided at this critical time," Reyes said.

The idea for the team was sparked by a 15-point plan that Johnson helped create with other community and grassroots organizations that make up the Focused Interruption Coalition. The coalition has received support from the city. The city approved $400,000 to go toward parts of the 15-point plan introduced last year. The funds are set to undergo a request for proposal in the fall, until then the money is not available for the group to use to help fund initiatives to reduce crime.

According to Johnson, the mayor's announcement also created confusion on the role the team would play after the effort was described as a way to help gather critical information from those affected by violence.

"I just want to make sure that we are not sugar coating or window dressing initiatives that don't exist. Right now, there is no rapid response team. Right now there is no funding to address this issue. People who are volunteering their time are not snitches, we are not giving information to law enforcement. Our role is to be there to support families," he said.

The focus of the team is to fill a gap by enabling community leaders to not only help in prevent violence, but  also to help support families who are affected by violent crimes in the area with emotional and financial resources.

"People are losing their lives. Kids are being shot. Mothers are losing their sons. There is no plan and people need to get off their chops and get serious about this," Johnson said.

Madison police Capt. Jim Wheeler is in charge of the department's Community Outreach division. Wheeler also wanted to clarify the duties of the team after the mayor's comments.

"This group was not formed to gather information for the police. The focus of this group is to provide services for victims families and the community," Wheeler said.

According to Wheeler, the team will go forward regardless of funding by using existing resources to address the needs of the community. Wheeler said there is a need for the response team to provide a voice and support the community that they live in.

"Boots on the ground have more credibility in talking to people in the community more then police do. I may be able to talk to people and say lets stop the violence, but it would come better from someone who has been there done that," Wheeler said.

Several organizations that have agreed to be a part of the team and are currently in the planning phase, Wheeler said.

Reyes said the team, which she admits is still in the planning phase, has had several meetings over the past few months. The mayor's office plans to request a budget amendment that would allow them to use $75,000 of already approved funds to fund the response team this summer.

The request is set to go to the finance committee Wednesday, Reyes said.

Soglin said he hopes to adopt a formal arrangement between the team and the city in the next two months, which will include funding for participants and outline the scope of their work.


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