‘What happened here was ass-backwards’: Parking Enforcement Officers, advocates, push back against Common Council decision to break ties with MPD

MADISON, Wis. — By an 11-8 vote, a new-look Madison Common Council moved to restructure a portion of MPD Tuesday night – transferring nearly 30 Parking Enforcement Officers to the city’s Parking Utilities Division.

The move, which will take close to two years to finalize, is a step towards redefining public safety in Madison according to District 19 Alder Keith Furman.

I think the (parking enforcement) department will work better under the parking utility,” Furman said. “I think it’s important for us to show are residents we are serious about rethinking public safety. As far as I’m concerned, this is the start of many moves like this.”

Furman says he’s hopeful these moves will include outsourcing traffic stops and citations. As for the Parking Enforcement Officers, the biggest change under the new proposal will be access to things like software, police radios, and police stations themselves.

Current staffers say this puts unnecessary financial burden on the city, which will have to pay to replace all three.

Our salaries are (already) being paid by parking utility,” said Beck Mugford, who’s been working as a civilian staff member for MPD since 2005. “But these uniforms, contracts, contracts with software programs, the law enforcement programs that we have access to now, are all going away. MPD pays for them. We’re kind of under their umbrella. The city is going to be duplicating some of those expenses. It’s just going to cost the taxpayers more. It’s not something that’s great for the city or for the public.”

Mugford says in addition, Parking Enforcement Officers had relied on MPD for backup in situations that can become dangerous, such as vehicle impoundments. Under the new structure, they won’t have the immediate access to backup.

We do have to impound cars occasionally, and we do need the police radios and a direct connection to the police,” Mugford said. “Even having that radio, that direct connection to police, sometimes just keying it to ask dispatch to send an officer down makes them back off completely.”

Furman says while a great deal of research into making the change has already been done, the financial impacts of the decision is unknown. Even if it costs the city more money, however, he says he doesn’t regret it.

To get better outcomes, it’s worth spending more money. It’s as simple as that,” Furman said. “We ask our police department to do so much because it’s the cheaper and easier thing to do. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the right thing to do.”

The change has already drawn severe criticism from some, including worker representatives.

There are things logistically that do not make sense,” said Walt Jackson, Vice President of AFSCME LOCAL 6000, which represents city employees. “Things were not thought out completely before they made the decision to make the move.”

Jackson says he sees the change as a political move.

Our Mayor is going to now be able to go back and tell certain communities, ‘Hey look, I defunded the police department budget.’ Well guess what? She’s defunded the police department budget, but this is how she’s done it,” Jackson said. “Has it been working on commissioned officers who have the ability to use lethal force? No.”

Furman says the move isn’t political, but rather the first step in restructuring public safety in Madison.

I don’t believe this move is just a symbolic move,” Furman said. “I think this aligns better with the city goals and I do think there will be better outcomes. Our goal of reimagining public safety will be judged over many years.”

Jackson and Mugford say their concerns now lie with the funding for the parking utilities division.

Will we be laid off, will we still have jobs? Will they bring in a private entity to do parking? Is this all going to be privatized? We don’t know,” Mugford said. 

What happened here was ass-backwards,” Jackson said.  “The Mayor decided by decree to do it in her budget, and said ‘Let’s just worry about it and figure it out, no matter how long that takes’.”