The Dane County Board of Supervisors voted to not fund a mental health crisis ambulance in the city of Madison that would provide 24/7 services and a mental health Triage and Restoration Center.

The Board also did not pass a budget amendment for a study on the use of tear gas and pepper spray by the Sheriff’s Office. They decided to not defund the Sheriff’s Office by a vote of 29-7.

Dane County Supervisor Heidi Wegleitner, District 2, said the County Board needs to invest in a pilot mental health ambulance that would operate in Madison 24/7 now so they can expand and implement it when appropriate.

“If this is successful, there will be fewer people going to jail, fewer people arrested on police calls, fewer people going into psychiatric hospitalization and release,” Wegleitner said. “There will be more people getting their crises resolved … and there will be fewer people victimized by excessive force.”

Wegleitner said Dane County would be saving money in the future and helping people with their crises through an evidence-based medical approach with people treated like patients instead of “criminals.”

Supervisor Michele Doolan, District 28, said she had to call the police several times in the last four years for her daughter because when it comes to mental health crises, they are the only ones who reach her area. 

She said though she supports a mental health ambulance, she voted against the budget amendment because it was restricted to Madison and did not cover all of Dane County.

Supervisor Elizabeth Doyle, District 1, spoke in support of the program.

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“We owe it to the community to implement this at full strength, 24/7 coverage because we all know mental health crises do not follow a set schedule,” Doyle said. “Additionally, this has worked in other communities, we very often implement programs that are successful in other parts of the nation, and I think that this is something our community deserves.”

Supervisor Dave Ripp, District 29, said he does not support the budget amendment because several years ago the Sheriff’s Office handled a mental crisis within his family and they had a positive experience.

The budget amendment failed with a vote of 26-10.

The board then discussed cutting $188,000 from the Sheriff’s Office, the funds cut from the Sheriff’s Office were meant to be directed to the mental health ambulance.

Wegleitner said Dane County witnessed a historic movement with the recent protests in defense of Black lives where protesters demanded elected officials reconsider how they use their resources. 

“Our budget is saying right now, ‘No, Sheriff, you don’t need to make reductions like everyone else. It’s okay … [Sheriff,] you do not have to make your targeted reductions.” Wegleitner said. “I think that’s out of touch with Dane County’s values … it’s non-responsive to the outpouring of public input we have received on this budget cycle.”

Dane County Sheriff Dave Mahoney said a 5% cut in the department’s budget would be roughly 30 deputy positions and would have a “dramatic” impact on public safety.

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Supervisor Melissa Ratcliff, District 36, said her reason for opposing the amendment is that taking away funding from the sheriff reduces their capability to provide for public safety, especially when that is all the rural areas have.

The board voted 29-7 to not remove two deputy sheriffs and to not decrease the expenditures of the Sheriff’s Office by $188,898.

Another budget amendment for the Sheriff’s Office requested the department suspend the use of chemical munitions until January 2021, when a study by the City of Madison Police Department on the use of tear gas would be completed. The amendment also asked the sheriff to participate in the study and report to the county board in 2021.

Supervisor Elena Haasl, District 5, said they urge Sheriff’s Office to suspend its use of chemical munitions until more data and information is collected.

“My district is a good chunk of where protesters were sprayed with chemical munitions for practicing their first amendment rights, and I was out there pretty frequently at night with jugs of water … I don’t wish [pepper spray and tear gas] upon anyone, especially in a community that’s hurting, in a community that’s grieving,” Haasl said.

Mahoney said they had used chemical weapons on three instances in 2020, and their special events team “set the standard nationwide” in crowd control in 2011 when hundreds of thousands of individuals converged on the Wisconsin Capitol grounds.

Wegleitner said a constituent on North Pickney Street, who did not participate in the protest when protesters were being tear-gassed, had gas come into his apartment through the window. The constituent said he can only imagine what the people marching in the streets for justice must have experienced, according to Wegleitner.

Wegleitner and Doyle said journalists had also been tear-gassed by the sheriff’s department.

The amendment failed by a vote of 18-18.