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Saturday, July 26, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 77.0° F  Overcast
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Madison police to launch new unit aimed at chronic offenders
Cops seek to end careers

Wray promises 'a carrot-and-stick approach.'
Wray promises 'a carrot-and-stick approach.'
Credit:Sharon Vanorny
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The Madison Police Department wants to start a crime unit to target so-called career criminals who make their living primarily from crime.

"With Madison becoming more urban, we believe a career criminal can function more easily here," says Police Chief Noble Wray. "Years ago, a career criminal would stick out more, but when a community grows, it's easier to function."

Wray doesn't know how many such people are in Madison, but adds, "We're seeing a number of people going through the criminal justice system, cycling out and committing the same crime." He says these people have done a "cost-benefit analysis" and decided that despite the occasional arrest, crime pays.

Among the chief offenses are robberies, burglaries and violent crimes. This is a different group of individuals from the chronic lawbreakers with mental health, drug or alcohol issues previously pegged by police for committing nuisance crimes downtown.

The unit would be composed of a lieutenant, three detectives and a data analyst. None of the positions would be new. Its approach would be to identify career criminals, build cases against them, and look for ways to prevent them from re-offending.

"It would take on a carrot-and-stick approach," Wray says. The police would "look outside the criminal justice system and ask ourselves how can we break the cycle."

Police would work with the Dane County district attorney, the U.S. attorney for Wisconsin's Western District, social workers and others to offer criminals incentives or threaten harsher punishment. As Wray explains it, the career criminals would be given a choice: "We can charge it out or here are some resources in the community and an opportunity to get your life together."

Since the unit - slated to form next June - will be using existing staff, Wray doesn't expect it to cost the city more. But he says there could be costs down the line, as resources from other government agencies are called into play.

"We're really hoping that we'll have a strong community component for this," he says. "Coordination with a unit like this is critical."

A longer curb-shopping season?

If a city of Madison budget-cutting measure is approved, the annual midsummer curbside garbage bonanza known as "Hippie Christmas" could last for weeks instead of days.

Looking for ways to cut costs, Mayor Dave Cieslewicz proposed in his operating budget to cut the overtime allocated for trash crews in August. This could potentially save the city about $25,000, says Al Schumacher, streets superintendent.

But, without that overtime, it would take street crews much longer to clear the streets downtown of unwanted furniture, appliances and garbage that pile up as students move. In recent years, Schumacher says, the city starts putting extra crews on the street at 4 a.m. days before Aug. 15, when most student leases turn over.

The downtown crews will work a few hours of overtime in the early morning and then start their regular shifts at 7 a.m., Schumacher says. "By constantly sending crews there throughout the week, we're able to take care of it in about a seven-day window."

Cutting the overtime, says Schumacher, would add to street congestion and drag this process out considerably: "We anticipate it'll take about three weeks before we're totally cleaned up."

Downtown Ald. Mike Verveer thinks the proposal "is totally unacceptable" and plans to introduce an amendment to restore the funds. Schumacher doesn't like the cut either but says it's better than cutting positions. He adds, "I'm going to leave it up to the politicians to decide whether it's a good idea or not."

Chamber talk

Two weeks ago, President Obama criticized the U.S. Chamber of Commerce for running ads fighting his plans to create a consumer protection agency - in part because the chamber is getting millions from foreign corporations. (The chamber denies that foreign money was used for the ads, but its finances are private, and groups that run political ads are no longer required to reveal where the money comes from.)

A New Hampshire chamber was so upset with the parent organization that it severed ties. Is there any talk about the local chamber following suit?

"We are a member of the U.S. chamber," says Delores Newton, executive vice president of the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce. "And this year we paid about $700 in dues."

But Newton says this money all goes to provide the local chamber with access to training and informational programming, not to run ads for various causes or candidates.

"Absolutely no penny is spent on politics," says Newton, adding that the local chamber doesn't vote on the parent group's positions. "We do not have a PAC. It would be illegal to spend member dues for or against a candidate. So we do not do that."

The local chamber does have a conduit fund, which it uses to pass donations from members to political candidates and causes. However, each member decides where the money goes, though the chamber does make recommendations.

Newton says she doesn't know much about the parent group's policies, but insists, "We're not here to fight their battles."

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