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Body cam funding, police raises on La Crosse’s city council agenda Thursday

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Two items on the La Crosse city council’s agenda Thursday night have to do with police.

One is for 3% pay raises each of the next three years.

People hear “raise” right now, during a pandemic, with city struggling to make ends meet, and automatically want to dismiss the idea.

Abraham

Assistant Chief Rob Abraham explained Monday on La Crosse Talk PM why that wouldn’t have been possible — or smart.

“The city could not have approached those unions and just said, ‘You’re not getting a raise,’ because those officers would have went straight into binding arbitration, and an arbitrator likely would have given them a raise equivalent or probably even higher to what the city negotiated,” Abraham explained. “So, the union came in really with a win-win bargaining attitude and I think the city did too. In the end, they came up with a good contract for those unions.”

The raises will happen in two increments each of the next three years — a 1% raise in January and a 2% raise in September. The raises are for all police employees ranked below captain. Anyone captain or above is not part of the police’s union.

The other item on the agenda is to accept and match $137,071 in federal grant money for new body cams. But this won’t just be for La Crosse’s police department.

“Part of this is to have a county wide, so to speak, same vendor-type application for body cameras,” Abraham said. “Basically all the municipal law enforcement agencies in the county of La Crosse will be under one unified system.”

Here are those other departments and how much grant money they will have to match:

  • City of Onalaska Police ($27,900)
  • Village of West Salem Police ($9,000)
  • Village of Bangor Police ($2,700)
  • Town of Campbell Police ($4,500)
  • Town of Shelby Police ($1,800)
  • Ho Chunk Nation Police ($5,400)

That adds up to $51,300, meaning La Crosse would contribute $85,771.

Abraham said the Holmen P.D. couldn’t be part of the initiative because it recently just invested in body cameras, and the La Crosse County Sheriff’s Office was going after its own grant funding.

But with these seven departments going in on the same body cams, it could be very beneficial for police, courts and anyone that doesn’t want the hassle of trying to use one program for, say, La Crosse’s body cams, then another program for Onalska’s system.

“So, you could imagine having to navigate through (multiple), different video systems,” Abraham said. “Having one platform that you have to deal with, will certainly make it a lot easier for everyone involved.”

Abraham added that police might not have to pay for any of the funding.

“We also had someone who just came forward and wants to start at a public-private program to help pay for the match portion of this grant — a 50% grant,” Abraham said. “And we’re hoping to try to get some public support for the other 50% for all the agencies.”

It looks as though those donations would go through the La Crosse Community Foundation to assist the police agencies in raising the money, as well as maintenance costs over the next couple years.

Abraham said the police’s current body cams were on a pilot program that just ended, and they didn’t like the system that company was moving to.

He was also asked how relevant it was to upgrade the body cams, since they’re like anything tech that is almost obsolete after a couple years.

Abraham agreed, but added, “They’re in the harsh environments. Where you would tuck your cell phone in your pants pocket, that body cam stays out on that officer, and is exposed to all those elements. So, if you could imagine keeping your cell phone out the rain everyday, in the snow and the dust and the heat — everything else.”

Abraham, along with La Crosse Mayor Tim Kabat were both on La Crosse Talk PM WIZM on Monday.

Host of WIZM's La Crosse Talk PM | University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point graduate | Hometown: Greenville, Wis | Avid noonball basketball player and sand volleyballer in La Crosse