Police presence at London council meeting stirs debate

(Posted Jan. 19, 2015)

By Kristy Zurbrick, Madison Editor

A police officer was assigned to London’s city council chambers for council’s last two meetings, Dec. 18 and Jan. 8. The move upset some people.

“Why is there a police officer babysitting the meeting?” asked resident Chris Cox on Jan. 8.

Council President Pat Closser explained that council did not request the police presence. Safety-Service Director Stephen Hume did. Hume reports to the mayor, not to council, Closser added.

Hume was not at the Jan. 8 meeting, but in an interview after the meeting said he made the request in light of the heated discussion that took place over water rate increases at the Dec. 4 council meeting.

“In my opinion, it was relatively unruly,” Hume said. “I just want to make sure we’re keeping our council meetings in order. It’s easy to have a police officer there who is already on duty, so if he’s needed to maintain the audience, that’s fine.”

At the Dec. 4 meeting, audience members initially followed standard meeting procedure, taking turns at the podium to state their concerns about the water rates. Soon, though, audience members were talking out of turn from their seats.

Closser said he was close to striking the gavel to restore order, but wanted residents to have their say.

“People had passion. I wanted to let people get that passion out,” he said.

The water rates continued to be a major topic of discussion at the Dec. 18 and Jan. 8 meetings. A police officer stood at the back of the room for the duration of both meetings.

Councilman Dick Minner said the police presence was offensive, stating, “I think it’s a dumb thing to do.”

Councilman Steve Scaggs viewed it as intimidating, saying he’d rather see the officer out patrolling the streets. Councilman Trint Hatt also said the officer didn’t need to be there.

One resident, Gary Laszewski, who attended the Jan. 8 meeting to thank council for changing traffic patterns on Lotspiech Avenue, said the officer’s presence was not an intimidation. Laszewski is a retired law enforcement and corrections officer.

Hume noted that Police Chief David Wiseman attends most council meetings, something his predecessor, Peter Tobin, also did. As such, council meetings have had some kind of police presence for years.

“If (people) feel intimidated, I have absolutely no idea why,” Hume said.

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