PRESS EDITORIAL: GPD should not say, ‘Sorry, we’re closed’

A smart decision concerning its police department seems to have set the Village of Grafton up for a mistake.

The smart decision, made by the Village Board in April, was to transfer dispatch duties from the village police department to the Ozaukee County Sheriff’s Office.

The move was right for Grafton because of the efficiency gains made possible by working with the county dispatch unit that serves a number of communities as well the sheriff’s department and the access it ensures to the Emergency Medical Dispatch program that enables dispatchers to call for the appropriate medical response to emergencies.

The latter is an important benefit the village would have lost if its police department retained dispatch duties.

So far, so good.

But then someone got the not-bright idea that because the police station was staffed at night by no-longer-needed dispatchers, money could be saved by closing the station lobby during those hours.

Sometimes saving money is a mistake, even when it’s taxpayers’ money.

This is a classic example of one of those times.

And it begs a question: What’s wrong with this picture? Grocery stores, fast food restaurants, mini-marts and gas stations are open 24/7.

But the police station, the place people think of first as the source of safety, protection and help for those facing everything from violent behavior to medical crises, would be closed at night, shuttered to achieve savings that amount to a tiny fraction of the village budget?

Yes, this looks bad, but it’s not just about optics. Police officers would remain on duty around the clock in their patrol cars if the station lobby were closed, of course, but the inventions of the cell phone and 911 service do not replace a permanent, physical police location accessible by the public at all times, whether for a situation as trivial as a lost motorist or as serious as a lost child or—not out of the realm of possibility—a person in some kind of mortal danger.

The Village of Grafton is not to be confused with Andy Griffith’s Mayberry, the TV sitcom town so sleepy the sheriff spent a good part of each day or night snoozing with feet up on his desk.

Grafton is equal in size to the two cities in Ozaukee County in terms of its permanent population.

But when its transient population—the throngs of shoppers attracted by the enormous commercial development beside I-43—is factored in, it is likely Ozaukee’s most populous community.

When the village government encouraged the development of the Grafton Commons mall and neighboring megastores, it accepted not only the benefits of a hugely increased tax base, but the responsibility to meet the increased demand for services, including police protection.

Keeping the police station that is located a few blocks from the retail district open at all times needs to be part of that.

The idea of operating the police station’s public service area on the type of schedule that people once called banker’s hours rose out of good intentions.

Some village trustees, pressured to stretch the village budget under the onerous constraints of the state’s tax levy limits, see the personnel changes as a cost-cutting opportunity that can’t be ignored.

The issue landed last week on the agenda of Public Safety Committee, a panel that should have been able to see it clearly from the standpoint of safety and essential services rather than cost.

But, unfortunately, the committee punted it. Instead of rejecting the police station closure as a bad idea not be pursued, it recommended maintaining current lobby hours while tracking public visits to the station then making a decision on night-time closing when the budget for the year 2020 is drafted.

This is not an issue that should be decided by turnstile clicks.

The police station should be open for business whenever people might need its help, whether that is a few citizens per night or hundreds.

No CLOSED sign should ever appear on the Grafton police station door.

 

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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

125 E. Main St.
Port Washington, WI 53074
(262) 284-3494
 

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