Mayor, police push for more officers in La Crosse neighborhoods after shootings

Six shootings in seven days in La Crosse

La Crosse leaders hope a string of shootings will help prove the need for something they’ve been working on for months.

La Crosse Mayor Tim Kabat and the city’s police department are pushing for more police presence in neighborhoods after six shootings in just seven days. Both said this is something they’ve been working on for quite some time, but a lack of funding is standing in the way.

Sgt. Randy Rank of the La Crosse Police Department said since the shootings there are more police officers in the southside neighborhoods.

But that is something the department and Kabat have been trying to do long term for quite some time now. Both believe increased police presence would benefit La Crosse residents and one resident agrees.

Robert Haavind has lived in La Crosse nearly his entire life. He said when he was a kid he never had to worry about being shot at in the Washburn Neighborhood where he lives, but “the neighborhood has changed.”

Five of the six shootings last week took place in the Washburn neighborhood.

Haavind, the captain of the Neighborhood Watch in the area, said he would like to see more police involvement in the watch programs until more community policing opportunities are available.

“This would be a cost effective means of extending the eyes and ears of the police department,” Haavind said.

The Washburn Neighborhood currently has two of the four Neighborhood Resource Officers, the other two are in the Lower Northside Neighborhood. Kabat said all along the goal has been to have six NROs, one being in the downtown and the other in the Univeristy of Wisconsin-La Crosse campus area.

“We’ve been building partnerships and allocating resources to be able to implement that and we’re going to continue to do that,” Kabat said.

Another proposal Kabat and the police department have been working on is increasing the number of hours for officers on-duty. The proposal would bump an officer’s shift from eight to 12 hours.

“What that 12-hour shift does, I mean there’s several positive factors, is that it does put more of our officers that are actually working on the street for more hours,” Rank said.

The challenge in front of both ideas is lack of funding, but both Kabat and the police department believe the two ideas are what La Crosse residents need.

“We have our plan, which is to do more community policing and we’re going to keep working on that plan and in some ways try to increase how fast we implement that,” Kabat said.

Currently the four neighborhood resource officers are funded through grants and local partnerships. Kabat hopes that same model can fund the proposed two more officers.

Kabat believes the  change to 12-hour shifts would provide more bang-for-the-buck rather than hiring more officers that are not the NROs.

Kabat said he will most likely include both proposals in the 2016 budget.

He said it’s important to note that the city and police department have been working on these efforts for a long time now, and they have proven successful, because La Crosse’s crime rate is down and Friday’s shooting is the first intentional homicide in two years.