4. A chat with Police Chief Noble Wray
A random thought occurs to me as I follow Noble Wray to his ground-floor office in the City-County Building Thursday morning. As chief of Madison police, he is entitled to wear civilian clothing - a suit and tie.
But you never see him in anything other than a uniform and, as today, mostly in the working uniform of a cop rather than his dress blues. I'm thinking it identifies him with the blue collar nature of policing - although Madison police officers are, in effect, social workers with guns.
No one looks better in uniform. Tall and trim, without even a hint of a middle-aged gut, he moves with an athlete's grace, smoothly with no wasted motion.
The smile is large and genuine, the hand readily offered for a vigorous shake of welcome. He laughs easily, which is a wonderment given the pressures of policing a city of 240,000 people and the tightrope he must walk.
It is well known that he is one of 10 children, that he grew up in Milwaukee. Both parents are still living but are in their 80s. He is a product of the Catholic schools but feared his father more than any teacher. I can relate to all of that.
The chief makes some news in his 45-minute talk with me so let's put that out there right now.
Need more cops?
I ask if he had enough troops to police this city. Chief Wray reveals that he is seeking a $4.6 million federal COPS grant for 20 additional police. Of the 7,000 municipal applicants, 1,000 have already been approved. Madison has not been denied but is in "pending" status. We won't know until October whether Madison gets the boost. By then the city's budget process will be too far along to insert the request into the budget.
"Right now, we're in a holding pattern."
But the short answer remains: the department's staffing studies indicate a need for more men and women in uniform.
Last month, Chief Wray announced an initiative to increase the number of officers assigned to the department's two-person Gang Unit and the one person crime prevention unit, saying that Madison has more than 900 confirmed gang members - 1,400 when counting associates. That's where some of the new officers would go but he is transferring six court services officers to beef up the gang unit.
Many of my neighbors on the Southwest side refer to a September 10, 2007, letter from Captain Jay Lengfeld promising "increasing enforcement activity on public disorder and other illegal behavior that negatively impacts citizen's quality of life." The captain listed 17 ordinance violations that included disorderly conduct, noise, property damage, trespassing, and standing on the roadway.
Chief Wray says that zero tolerance approach is a short-term tactic that is used to jump start increased enforcement in an area. He used it himself when he was a neighborhood officer in the old Broadway-Simpson neighborhood back in the 1990s. However, it cannot be sustained forever.
There simply are not enough police, the court system is already burdened, and the adversarial relationship of arrest and prosecution must ultimately be fortified with understanding why the behavior cannot be accepted.
In effect, the zero tolerance approach gets the attention of transgressor and law-abiding citizen alike but must ultimately yield to the longer term strategy of community policing. And that involves neighborhood associations, schools, social services and parents.
Police Chief Noble Wray confirms that he is, as I suspect, a disciple of the "Broken Windows" theory of policing. This philosophy holds that neglecting quality of life issues - things like loud parties, litter, and graffiti - sends a signal that the area is ripe for hard-core crime because no one cares.
The zero tolerance approach combined with community action is how he reads Broken Windows. He should know, he is personally acquainted with fellow Milwaukee native George Kelling, the co-author of Broken Windows. In fact, the chief talked with Kelling just a month ago.
It worked on Allied Drive
Wray is a big fan of community walks as a visible sign that responsible members of the community are ready to take back their neighborhoods. Allied Drive resisted those efforts until the past year or so when residents like Florenzo Cribbs took leadership. Keeping property up, providing information to the police, talking to parents are important, as well. Last year, crime reported in Allied Drive declined by 29 percent.
"Any improvement we see always when the citizens get involved."
The same thing occurred in the once-troubled Broadway-Simpson neighborhood when the Mothers of Broadway-Simpson formed. The area is now rehabilitated and renamed as Lakepoint.
Vera Court, Somerset Circle, Darbo-Worthington, Cypress-Magnolia, Broadway Simpson - aren't we just moving the problem around?
Music to my ears
I ask a question I have been asking a lot, lately: "What would our fathers have done?"
Noble Wray says he feared his father more than his teachers. I had a pretty fearsome father, too, underscoring the importance of fathers.
"We have to have respect, discipline, and accountability," the chief says.
Three most beautiful words, indeed! How often do we hear those words coming from a Madison officeholder? Not enough!
Coming up next on Blaska's Blog: Broken Windows