Facing staunch opposition from parking officers, the Madison City Council narrowly approved Tuesday transferring the duties and oversight of the Parking Enforcement unit out of the Madison Police Department.
The council voted 11-8 on a proposal to move the unit to the supervision of the city's Parking Division, which operates the public parking garages, lots and on-street parking programs. The transfer is expected to be fully complete by 2023.
Supporters said the transfer of the unit, which employees 28 full-time parking officers and three management positions, upholds commitments to constituents to move resources and responsibilities from the Police Department that can be conducted by other agencies.
"I believe that we should be taking things out of the Police Department's purview that don’t have to be there," said Ald. Arvina Martin, 11th District.
But opponents wrestled with unanswered questions, including how much it could cost the city to transfer the unit and how existing information sharing between Parking Enforcement officers and police might continue.
Several parking officers, who are civilian employees of the Police Department, spoke out strongly against the transfer. They said they currently can operate out of the six police stations across Madison and are able to more quickly respond to parking complaints due to the decentralized structure.
City staff will have to figure out where and how to physically house Parking Enforcement staff and vehicles. Additional costs are expected to license software and services police have access to but not the Parking Division.
Valerie Riedel has been a parking officer for more than 11 years. She and colleagues can face harassment and threats when writing citations, Riedel said, and the current relationship with the Police Department allows parking officers to receive information on wanted suspects or stolen vehicles that helps to avoid dangerous situations.
Other parking officers worried access to the information would become limited after the transfer. The contentious decision came hours after eight new members of the City Council were sworn in Tuesday afternoon.
Ald. Keith Furman, 19th District, who co-sponsored the proposal, said it was brought forward as a small way to "reimagine" public safety. The proposal sets a deadline of the end of 2023 to complete the transfer, Furman said, so city staff can figure out solutions to outstanding questions.
"We have an opportunity this evening to make a policy decision," he said.
But the proposal was also met with skepticism.
"I didn't hear that this was going to make our community safer," said Ald. Brian Benford, 6th District. "I didn't hear that we were going to save lots of money down the road. I just heard lots of questions."
Ald. Sheri Carter, 14th District, said she was uncomfortable voting on something without knowing the full financial effect of it.
Last year, the city moved the vast majority of the costs for the Parking Enforcement unit, or $3.2 million, to the Parking Division, said transportation director Tom Lynch, but the parking officers continue to be supervised as employees of the Police Department.
Ald. Tag Evers, 13th District, said since most of the unit's money has been moved out of the Police Department, it is "totally practical and makes sense" to move the responsibility of supervising the parking officers to the Parking Division.