Madison’s Finance Committee unanimously greenlit a pilot for a new Crisis Response Team on Monday night. The pilot program was a major item in the mayor’s 2021 budget proposal, and the finance committee’s sign-off is one of the final steps for the initiative to move forward.
The program is a joint effort between the city, Dane County and Journey Mental Health. Its goal is to reduce reliance on the Madison Police Department for all emergencies, and instead send paramedics and crisis workers who have been trained in mental health counseling and harm reduction to emergencies that warrant it.
The pilot is modeled on similar programs in other cities, like the CAHOOTs program in Eugene, Oregon, and the STAR program in Denver, Colorado.
The Madison Police Department estimates that, in 2019, it received twenty mental health-related emergency calls per day — which translates to more than 7,000 calls total in 2019. But only five percent of those calls ended up in an arrest, two percent ended in a citation and two percent resulted in an emergency detention.
The Finance Committee approved two measures related to the program: one that would partially reimburse the county for the salaries of the crisis response workers and another that formalizes an agreement between the city and Journey Mental Health.
Both of those items now go to the city’s common council for approval.
City leaders have set a tentative June first start date for the pilot. But, when pressed about that deadline by Alder Sheri Carter, Mary Bottari – the mayor’s Chief of Staff – said that date may get pushed.
“Because June first is rapidly approaching, I just want to find out if we definitely would be up and running by [June] first. And I have my fingers crossed as I said that,” Carter asked at Monday’s meeting.
“This is what I can say: I’m fairly confident that the city side is going to be ready with all the things we need, but there are partners here that we’re relying on,” Bottari responded.
Also yesterday, the finance committee approved a measure to shift the city’s parking enforcement employees from the Madison Police Department to the city’s parking division. Similar to the Crisis Response Team, those in favor of the move say that the transition will help streamline the MPD’s responsibilities.
But, the parking enforcement workers who spoke during yesterday’s meeting opposed the resolution — citing a range of issues from funding to safety.
Walt Jackson is the Vice President of AFSCME Local 6000, the union representing the parking enforcement staff. He said that they are particularly concerned about being separated from the protection granted by the MPD.
“Although there is societal pressure to defund the police, we believe there are better ways to repurpose the police budget, mission and duties without jeopardizing the non-commissioned civilian Madison police employees,” Jackson said.
That proposal was ultimately sent on to the city’s common council as well, with three members against and four in favor.
And finally, the finance committee voted to accept three million dollars from Dane County to fund a new men’s homeless shelter near the East Towne Mall. That resolution also allows the city to go ahead with purchasing the property using three million dollars set aside in Madison’s 2021 budget.
With the addition of the County’s contribution, the project’s total budget comes to six million dollars.