Mayor Paul Soglin, police differ sharply on staffing levels

2017-01-07 | The Wisconsin State Journal

Jan. 07--In an early prelude to a potential 2018 budget spat, Mayor Paul Soglin and the Madison Police Department are voicing sharp differences over staffing levels for what is already the city's biggest and most costly agency.

Soglin and top police officials this week offered contrasting memos on the size of the force, with the department asserting staff needs that could cost an additional $1 million or more annually.

Both sides maintained their positions in interviews Friday, with Soglin contending there is no emergency, the department has appropriate staff and that police are continuing a campaign for more resources that peaked with recent budget battles over a new Midtown District police station.

"We certainly have adequate personnel for 2017," he said. "What we have to do is figure out how to reduce the demand for services."

Assistant Police Chief Vic Wahl said, "This is not an emergency, but we are behind where we should be."

City Council President Mike Verveer said, "The dueling memos are a precursor to a likely campaign issue in the upcoming City Council elections as well as the 2018 budget deliberations."

Staffing levels 'lagging'

On Tuesday, Police Chief Mike Koval posted a memo authored by Wahl on his blog that summarized a 73-page city study completed in late fall that explores multiple methodologies showing the department should have more sworn personnel.

The study, conducted by the city's police and finance departments under a requirement in the 2016 budget, offers no recommendations but indicates police need 13 more patrol officers alone based on workload and somewhere between 37 and 361 officers depending on population comparisons.

The department now has authorization for 461 sworn personnel, about 1.9 officers for every 1,000 residents.

"By any relevant comparison, MPD staffing levels seem to be lagging behind the levels they should be," the blog post states. "In fact, the 2003 staffing committee report recommended that MPD be staffed to a level of 2.0 officers per thousand residents ... by 2010."

It would take 37 more officers to reach the ratio of 2.0 per 1,000 residents.

Each extra officer costs about $71,700 annually, plus a one-time cost of $9,350 for equipment and uniforms. It would cost $932,400 annually for 13 more officers and $2.65 million annually to add 37 officers. The recently approved police department budget stands at $69.8 million for 2017.

The department's total personnel has increased 48.8 percent to 579 employees from 1994 to 2016, easily the biggest rise among the city's biggest agencies, the study says.

By contrast, the Fire Department increased 31.1 percent, Metro Transit 31.9 percent, the Parks Division 16.6 percent and the Streets Division 1.7 percent.

'Where we should be'

On Thursday, Soglin countered with a two-page memo to the City Council with a series of charts that said "we are right about where we should be" on Police Department staffing. The mayor had prepared the memo last fall but never released it, Verveer said.

"Will we need to add more police staff as we grow? Yes," Soglin wrote. "Do we need to leap from 1.9 to 2.0 officers per thousand residents? No. Are we in a dire situation? Certainly not. Is there an emergency that requires the Midtown station to be built in 2017 rather than 2018? No. To argue that there is an emergency ignores reason and relies on emotion and fear."

Soglin had wanted to start construction of the $10.8 million Midtown station in 2018. But in the budget process, the City Council moved up construction to mid-2017 and delivered funds for seven new recruits in the department's 2017 fall training class to address staffing needs when the station opens in 2018.

The mayor on Friday blamed Koval for the gap between his office and the Police Department on staffing.

"We've never had a police chief who's so adamant on building the infrastructure and population of the department," Soglin said.

Wahl had no explanation for the differences. "I don't have an answer to that question," he said. "I feel the data supports our position. It really does."

Verveer said the council will likely be amenable to further required staffing for the Midtown Station, but "beyond that, it's anyone's guess. The reality is, we can't write a blank check for the police department."

Methodology matters

The study, Koval's blog post says, examined several methods for evaluating staffing needs. By workload for Madison's department, the study showed a need for the 13 additional patrol officers. By population, Madison's force needs 87 officers to match the average ratios for benchmark cities, 211 more to match ratios for the five largest Wisconsin cities, and 37 to 361 more to match average ratios for various large cities as compiled by the FBI.

Madison would need 2.2 officers per 1,000 residents to match five similar cities and 2.7 per 1,000 to match the state's five largest cities, it says.

But the blog post adds, "These comparisons are not the results of formulas or precise methodology. They should be viewed simply as providing context when discussing/evaluating MPD staffing levels."

Soglin said the city has historically used a method based on population and crime rate, and that given the level of crime over the decades, "it's evident that the metric is reasonable and that it works." A ratio of about 1.8 officers per 1,000 residents seems about right at this time, he said.

The city, he said, is dealing with some extraordinary circumstances, including police overtime caused by alcohol abuse, challenges of dealing with behaviors in areas of State Street and officer-related shootings. But such issues can be addressed without adding staff.

For example, Soglin said he intends to oppose a liquor license for a restaurant proposed for the prominent space at 502 State St., formerly American Apparel.

"I will veto it if it's approved," he said.

The mayor said it's too early to know how many police officers should be added in 2018, but said, "you're certainly not going to see anything significant.

"I'm looking at the whole budget debate. The city has critical services that go way beyond the police department," he said, citing clearing snow, fighting the emerald ash borer and equity, employment and social justice.

The department, Wahl said, "will be asking for extra personnel with data to support our request."