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Police chief organizing opposition to consolidation

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Publication:Waukesha Freeman (Conley); Date:Apr 12, 2012; Section:Opinion; Page Number:6A

Police chief organizing opposition to consolidation

Police inviting crowd to next Common Council meeting

Should the city of Waukesha consolidate its 911 dispatch operations with Waukesha County’s? The city of Waukesha’s Common Council has been looking into that very question as part of a larger examination of city services to look for budget savings.

Last year, Mayor Jeff Scrima toured the Waukesha County call center and was ready to make the switch. This year the mayor has changed his mind. He’ll have to explain to his constituents why he campaigned two years ago on finding efficiencies and then rejected a major cost-saving measure.

However, what was really interesting to see was how Police Chief Russell Jack quickly condemned the idea last year. Even before his department looked at the issue, Jack was opposed to any consolidation with the county’s 911 dispatch.

This year Jack has been more than a vocal opponent. He and his department are actively campaigning against the consolidation.

In addition to a questionable study by the Police Department, Jack’s department has been reaching out to groups in the community in an effort to rally support for the existing call center. Both Deputy Chief Dennis Angle and Capt. Ron Oremus have been speaking to community groups about the issue.

According to a communications plan unearthed in an open records request to the Police Department, Angle was specifically tasked with inviting 500 people to Tuesday’s Common Council meeting. Meanwhile, Jack, Angle, Oremus, and Patrol Division Capt. Ron Tischer were responsible for distributing the study and Jack’s letter to the editor far and wide, from the Kiwanis to the Shriners, from La Casa to the entire school district.

No stone was to be left unturned looking for potential support, including the Masons, the Optimists, ex-mayors, the Rotary, and downtown businesses.

Just imagine if the Police Department worked that hard on neighborhood watch programs.

Jack is anticipating all of this community outreach to pay off. He told the mayor in an email that the support for the current call center is “overwhelming” and he anticipates more than 500 people (presumably those invited by Angle) to attend the April 17 Common Council meeting when the Police Department makes its presentation.

The planned crowd is large enough that the mayor and staff are moving the next Common Council meeting to Waukesha North High School, possibly costing thousands of dollars depending on the equipment needed.

Let’s put that 500 people Angle is inviting in perspective. In the same email to the mayor, Jack estimated the capacity of the Common Council chambers at 175 people. Even allowing for overflow, that means Jack is anticipating a crowd two-and-a-half times as large as the crowd that attended the debate when the city decided to allow a baseball stadium at Frame Park.

Jack’s invitees will be more than double the crowd that showed up for the recent Freeman Friday Night Live debate and more than double the crowd on the water issue. Somebody should sell popcorn and make a fortune.

This is not an uncommon tactic, unfortunately. When other communities have decided to examine replacing their police departments with the county sheriff service, large crowds were able to be whipped up to attend the meetings in an effort to intimidate the local public officials. Sometimes it works, like in Jackson. Sometimes it doesn’t, like in Lisbon and the City of Pewaukee.

City of Waukesha aldermen need to be aware that this all-too-common tactic is being worked on them by their own Police Department. They should question the time and resources spent on this behind-the-scenes lobbying effort. They should also question the objectivity of any statement or purported study by the Police Department.

The Common Council should take the advice of Waukesha County Executive Dan Vrakas and follow the example of New Berlin. Commission an independent study, one free from the political agenda of the Police Department.

At this point, only a complete and independent study will give the Common Council and Mayor Jeff Scrima the ability to make an informed decision about the future of the city of Waukesha’s emergency call center.

(James Wigderson is a blogger publishing at http://www.wigderson.com and a Waukesha resident. His column runs Thursdays in The Freeman.)

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