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Few understand better than Capt. Jay Lengfeld why the creation of a new Midtown District for the Madison Police Department is so important.

As the captain of the North District and former captain of the West District, Lengfeld says response times are slower overall in the West District because it covers a much bigger area and more people than the North.

When the Midtown District opens next August at the former Mount Olive Lutheran Church site at the intersection of Mineral Point Road and Westmorland Boulevard on the Near West Side, it will take a big chunk of the West District’s workload as well as some from the Central and South districts.

“There will be a key difference in the level of service,” said Lengfeld, who will be captain of the new district. “It’s going to allow us to provide the same level of services to all the people of Madison.”

Mayor Paul Soglin and Police Chief Mike Koval headed a list of dignitaries that were part of the official groundbreaking ceremonies for the $10.8 million district station Wednesday afternoon but construction has already begun.

“It’s coming at a critical time in regards to the challenges our police department and city face,” like the increase in drug use and accessibility to firearms, Soglin said. “With this new station, we are going to have the opportunity to deal with these challenges and through the work of the men and women of the Madison Police Department we are going to take on these challenges and make a safer city.”

The UW-Madison campus, the city’s three hospitals and three of its high schools (West, Memorial and Edgewood) and one of its neediest neighborhoods (Allied Drive) are within the borders of the new district that will provide service to more than 40,000 Madison residents.

“This will get police closer to the people they serve,” said Koval.

Most of the residents the new district will serve are now in the West District, which currently serves more than 85,000 Madison residents.

“Our policing style is to be decentralized,” Lengfeld said. “The idea is to have your police department imbedded in your community. The problem with the West District is that it’s so big that it has lost its flavor of being imbedded in the community. It covers one-third of the population.”

The South District also benefits because moving some of its residents to the new district will allow it to better serve parts of the town of Madison after it’s annexed into the city by 2022, according to Lengfeld.

The Central District, which is often bogged down with providing service for Downtown activities, benefits because it no longer has to plan for UW-Madison events, including football games at Camp Randall Stadium, he said.

The new district station will incorporate some of the stained glass, wood and pews that were part of the church and include underground parking, which was needed for safety reasons and to keep it as quiet as possible in its residential location, according to Lengfeld.

But Soglin reminded all those who wanted it built there — 14 neighborhood associations wrote letters of support — that it’s still a police station.

“When the shift changes and the sirens are tested each time each officer goes out, remember that you are responsible,” Soglin said.

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Rob Schultz has won multiple writing awards at the state and national levels and covers an array of topics for the Wisconsin State Journal in south-central and southwestern Wisconsin.