Madison city council members divided on defunding police

Issue will be brought up at council meetings over the next several months

MADISON, Wis. — The idea of defunding local police departments is one of the latest issues sweeping the nation, following the death of George Floyd.

Madison city council members are now starting to have the same conversation.

District 8 alder Max Prestigiacomo said, “We’ve spent so long funding police and we are still in a place where we haven’t been able to fix accountability, we haven’t been able to stop them from policing black and brown bodies at a disproportionate rate. We need to go a different route.”

Prestigiacomo said the solution is not to immediately fire hundreds of police officers in the middle of this global pandemic, but eventually, he said he wants to get us to the point where we don’t need police officers. He said the way to do that is to tackle the root of the problem.

“Crime in our society is often a symptom of larger, broader social struggles and it’s usually because people’s basic needs aren’t being met.”

Prestigiacomo said he wants to re-invest the money into affordable housing, education, healthcare, violence prevention programs and social services. He also said he plans to introduce legislation to ban crowd control weapons, tear gas and demilitarizing the police.

Prestigiacomo could not say how much money he would like to allocate to these programs for the upcoming fiscal year because the budget hasn’t been announced yet. But, he said the idea is to eventually dismantle and abolish the Madison police department and solely rely on the sheriff’s office or National Guard in case they’re needed.

This idea doesn’t sit well with district 9 alder Paul Skidmore.

“I think this is a terrible idea,” Skidmore said.  “It’s premature. We don’t know what it’s going to look like. We do know what it looks like in Mexico where they’ve defunded the police and its been replaced with gangs, thugs and militia, which is a terrible idea.”

Skidmore said he understands that many people believe there’s a screaming problem, but he doesn’t feel that there is.

“Social programs are good but we are already funding many of them,” Skidmore said. “What we need to do is to have an overall look at our budget priorities and see what we need to allocate for social services and what we need for security.”

Prestigiacomo said several other council members have voiced some semblance of support for defunding the police, but knows not everyone is on the same page.

“Slavery in this country was abolished by the 13th amendment but a lot of people now are recognizing how it wasn’t really abolished, it was reformed. Slavery turned into prison labor, it turned into the Civil Rights movement with Jim Crow, now it’s turning into mass incarceration. So really, we are abolishing those systems,” Prestigiacomo said.

Prestigiacomo said he will introduce his ideas at council meetings over the next several months.