Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway revealed a $349.1 million operating budget for 2021 with an increase in police funding and the council voted to study tear gas before banning police from using it at a City Council meeting Tuesday.

Rhodes-Conway’s budget increased spending for the Madison Police Department by 3.2% to $88.4 million according to the Wisconsin State Journal, despite testimonies from the public during the meeting and citywide protests to defund the police over the past months.

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Within the police budget, Rhodes-Conway allocated $350,000 for a pilot crisis response team in the Fire Department to relieve police of some responsibilities, eliminated four School Resource Officer positions and provided $450,769 for a new Office of the Independent Monitor.

In the budget overview, Rhodes-Conway said the city needs to reimagine public safety to produce more equitable outcomes that align with the community’s needs.

“2021 will bring many more opportunities to innovate as we will be welcoming a new police chief to our city, and working to ensure the success of the Independent Monitor and Civilian Oversight Board,” Rhodes-Conway said. “I welcome this new era of innovation in public safety.”

To address the blow of COVID-19, the budget calls for use of the city’s “rainy day” fund as well as limited spending, layoffs, furloughs and service reductions.

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Additionally, Ald. Max Prestigiacomo, District 8, presented a proposal during the meeting that would prohibit the Madison Police Department’s use of less-lethal weapons such as tear gas, pepper spray and sponge-projectile launchers, according to the Wisconsin State Journal.

The council voted 16–3 to postpone the prohibition of tear gas until a study of alternatives could be completed. Only alders Prestigiacomo, Heck and Kemble voted against postponing the prohibition, according to WSJ.

The council also banned MPD from getting military gear from the federal government through the National Defense Authorization Act’s 1033 Program, according to WSJ.

According to the Wisconsin Department of Military Affairs website, the 1033 Act permits the Secretary of Defense to transfer excess Department of Defense supplies and equipment to state and local law enforcement agencies for use in their duties.

In an interview with Chris Stanford, MPD Chief Vic Wahl addresses the use of tear gas during recent protests.

“When you look at the challenges that the officers faced that night with large crowds, property destruction, violence, aggression towards officers, aggression towards members of the community that were uninvolved and the challenges in terms of ways to address that, there aren’t a lot of good options,” Wahl said.

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MPD Public Information Officer Joel DeSpain said in an email statement to The Badger Herald that Wahl “believes providing officers with less-lethal tools, like tear gas, is important in the face of large-scale violent protests, and that more injuries would likely occur without these less-lethal options.” 

Wahl wrote a blog post, July 13 describing a real-life situation where non-lethal weapons helped de-escalate a situation. According to Channel 3000, Prestigiacomo responded to the post saying there could have been other methods of de-escalation.