Yesterday, the Village of Brooklyn – located about twenty minutes south of Madison – voted to dissolve its four person police department. Despite vocal opposition from town residents, the board voted 5-2 to instead enter into a law enforcement contract with the Dane County Sheriff’s Office.
Yesterday’s vote to terminate the department — which consists of two part-time and two full-time members — was held on just a few days notice. The board announced on Friday their plans to hold a vote on the future of the department come Monday.
Officers and staff of the department, who will be out of work starting March 6th, received marginally more notice of their potential termination.
Speaking at last night’s board meeting, Brooklyn Chief of Police Wade Engelhart said they were also told of the vote Friday, five minutes before the announcement went out on the town’s Facebook page.
“Thursday night at 9:30 on Jan. 28th, I received an email requesting our presence at a mandatory police department meeting from the village president on Friday at 1:00,” he said. “We were then told they were thinking about abolishing the police department.”
Randy Burns, one of the town’s officers, said that the village board only posted public notice for the meeting on the town’s Facebook after urging from department members.
“It was only going to be posted in three spots in the village, which is mandatory by law,” Burns said. “Most of those places would probably not be visited by any village resident inside of those three days.”
According to the Dane County Sheriff’s Office, Brooklyn will pay an estimated $140,000 annually for the increased service. Conversely, Brooklyn’s proposed 2021 general budget allocated about $240,000 for the police department, out of a roughly $1.1 million total budget.
Per the agreement, the Sheriff’s office will place one deputy in charge of patrolling the village, including the parts located in neighboring Green County
But, Engelhart said the village board was not forthcoming with those details.
“I have not received any numbers as to what Dane County is going to provide as to the financial aspect,” he said last night. “Every avenue we have taken, we have gotten roadblocks from the village and the village board members.”
Yesterday’s vote came after the board met twice in closed session last week to debate its merits.
The rapid turn-around, and lack of public involvement, only further fanned the flames at last night’s meeting — where nearly 100 of the town’s roughly 1,200 residents turned out to push back against the proposal.
Almost all of those who spoke during the public comment opposed the dissolution — citing concerns ranging from the importance of community policing to a lack of communication between the trustees and their constituents.
In defending the proposal, Board President Brit Springer said that the legal liability municipalities carry for their police departments has dramatically increased in recent years. She says that, by contracting with the Sheriff’s office, Brooklyn can shift the burden on some of that liability.
“Litigation against police officers, departments and their municipalities has increased substantially throughout the country. That means the village’s liability has increased dramatically,” Springer said. “In saying the above, the Dane County Sheriff’s department has more resources available than the village to accomplish the needed goals.”
Kyle Smith, a village trustee and one of two members to vote against the department’s dissolution, said Springer’s pre-written explanation failed to address the community’s concerns. He ended his comments with a call to action for Brooklyn’s residents.
“Every other time that we make a big decision, we go to the village and ask the people what they want. Right or wrong, we’re going to make this vote,” Smith said. “My expression, my concern to everybody on this call: If you don’t like it, get out and vote. That’s all I have to say.”
This isn’t the first time Brooklyn had considered eliminating its police department. In 2017 the village’s leaders circulated a survey to gauge residents’ opinions on the idea. More than 80% of respondents opposed the proposal
But this time around, the village board didn’t take any steps to survey residents’ opinions.
In dissolving its police department, Brooklyn joins six other Dane County villages that contract with the Sheriff’s Office for increased law enforcement responsibilities; Dane, Cambridge, Black Earth, Deerfield, Windsor and Mazomanie. The office also contracts with two towns — Middleton and Cottage Grove
(PHOTO C/O VILLAGE OF BROOKLYN)
Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to reflect that the Sheriff’s Office contracts with six villages and two towns for law enforcement responsibilities — not six towns and villages.