‘Feeling safe is a basic need’: Neighborhood association wants funding for more police officers

A local neighborhood association is hoping the Madison Common Council can still make room in next year’s budget for more police officers.

Theresa Drinka and the other board members with the Orchard Ridge Neighborhood Association wrote a letter to Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway explaining the people in their neighborhood want more officers to feel safe.

Drinka said the neighborhood association sent a survey to every house in the neighborhood, and of the responses they got back, 74 percent of people said they were concerned about public safety, and 76 percent said the city should approve money for the 31 police officers the Madison Police Department has requested.

The Orchard Ridge Neighborhood Assoc. sent a letter and community survey results to @MayorOfMadison, hoping the council will add funding for more police officers before the budget is finalized. The mayor has said before, policing is only one component of a safe and healthy city. pic.twitter.com/zf4VrIlJhT

— Amy Reid (@amyreidreports) November 7, 2019

“I just think if people feel this way in this neighborhood, they feel this way in other parts of the city as well,” Drinka said. “They want to be heard, and they don’t feel like they’re being heard.”

The council is holding a public hearing on the budget on Tuesday, one of the final steps before it is adopted. Currently the budget has about $160,000 left to play with, and options for adding three, six or 12 officers are $168,000 at the cheapest.

In her proposed operating budget, Rhodes-Conway said, “Policing is only one component of what makes our city healthy and safe.”

She suggested funding other items, including an independent police auditor, which has allocated funding in the current budget still to be approved.

The Madison Police Department has cited multiple reasons for wanting more officers, including lessening call volume for patrol officers. Interim Chief Victor Wahl said the amount of calls officers have to deal with wears on them, and it’s led to a problem keeping police on staff.

Officer Amelia Levett, who patrols on the west side, said more police officers would help her deal with the demands of her shift, which often includes going call to call and not having time to stop to eat, let alone emotionally process some calls.

“A lot of times you’ll go to a really intense call, and then dispatch will say, ‘Is anybody available to go to this next call?'” she said. “And you just move right on to the next and never really have that time to process what you just saw.”

Levett said sometimes the calls will stick with her and other officers, and if it’s still bad the next day, there isn’t enough staff to handle one of them calling in.

About 50 new officers will come out of academy in a couple months, which should help with call volume for now, Levett said.

For Drinka, she sees getting more officers as a way to feel safer, and she hopes the council will take that into account before approving the final budget.

“I don’t know where they’re going to get the money, but it seems to me that this is a basic need,” she said. “Feeling safe is a basic need.”

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