Opinions differ on whether or not officers were justified in the arrest of an 18-year-old woman at East Towne Mall, the fatal shooting last week of a mentally ill man with a pitchfork, or any number of incidents that have been met with police using forceful tactics.
But a show of support for men and women in blue by a few southwest side neighbors has taken hold across the city.
"It caused kind of a ripple effect," said Dave Glomp, who lives in the Meadowood Neighborhood. "It kind of went viral, I guess."
Glomp and a few of his neighbors on Redwood Lane got together and ordered 250 yard signs to show their support for the officers who patrol Madison’s streets. The small, well-kept one-story homes on Redwood display a virtually unbroken chain of bright yellow backgrounds sporting a police shield and the words: “We support our Madison police.”
Other signs are concentrated on Golden Oak Lane and Birch Hill Drive, a small sub-grouping of streets nestled within the Southwest side Meadowood Neighborhood. Still more are sprinkled around the city.
"They’re all out all over the place," said Glomp. "We’ve been deluged since we’ve been putting them out. People come to us wanting signs from here there and everywhere."
The requests have been coming in by phone and email, faster than Glomp and his neighbors can keep up.
He said he's thinking about printing more signs, and also making the artwork available for others to use.
It’s a small gesture of appreciation, Glomp said, to counter the negative press that’s recently accompanied the viral video of the June 22 arrest of Genele Laird, a bitter battle of words between the police chief and alders over the cost of a $400,000 Police Department review, and a string of controversial use-of-force incidents.
The local political group Progressive Dane last week called for a formal complaint to be lodged against Police Chief Mike Koval, and no less than former Police Chief David Couper has heaped criticism on the department for the Laird incident.
With all the negativity, Glomp said officers he's talked to are starting to feel the sting.
He wants officers to know, "We've got your back."
“There are some vocal people in some groups that have come out as far back as the Tony Robinson incident,” said Glomp, referring to the March 2015 shooting of the 19-year-old black man by a white officer that propelled Madison into the national spotlight.
Although Glomp declined to mention any group by name, he appeared to be referring to the Young, Gifted and Black Coalition, which called for officers to get out of minority neighborhoods after the incident.
“My neighbors feel like, ‘Wait a minute. If you’re taking them out of those neighborhoods, bring them over here. We’d be happy to have them patrolling our neighborhood,’” he said.
Add to the list of incidents the shooting Thursday of 41-year-old Michael Schumacher, a mentally ill man who reportedly refused to drop a pitchfork he was carrying after breaking into a Marquette Neighborhood home. It was the third fatal police shooting in the neighborhood since 2012, instilling a deep level of mistrust of police from minority and white residents alike.
Glomp, a 2011 City Council candidate who was beaten out by current alder Matt Phair, wanted to make clear that he’s not trying to quell scrutiny of such incidents.
“There’s a lot of mistrust out there,” he said. “And whether it’s needed mistrust or necessary mistrust, that’s not our point. Our point is these people who patrol our neighborhoods come into work every day to do the best job that they can. They’re not infallible, but they certainly need our support. They don’t need to be told that they’re evil or they’re the devil incarnate.”
Glomp is a frequent commentator on local affairs, and he’s been a staunch advocate of the police. Last year he organized a grassroots push of a Midtown Police District station, which aims to alleviate pressure on the overextended South and West police districts, and which has been the subject of heated funding debates.
He said the perceived lack of support from city officials and the public has taken its toll on police morale.
“I’ve talked to a couple of officers lately who said, ‘We’re damned if we do, and we’re damned if we don’t,’” he said.
He said he wants this neighborhood show of support to transcend politics — and he feels that it’s done just that.
“This is not a political move by any stretch,” he said. “This is simply to show our police our support. I know that I’ve got conservatives and liberals and moderates in my neighborhood, and they all have signs.”