Two La Crosse police officers will be based in the Washburn neighborhood beginning March 1 in the first step toward having six officers stationed throughout the city.
The program, announced Tuesday, is billed as a public-private partnership fostering neighborhood revitalization.
“We’ve heard talk about neighborhood revitalization,” Mayor Tim Kabat said during a press conference at Mayo Clinic Health System-Franciscan Healthcare. “One tool we can add to the toolbox is community-oriented policing focused on building relationships.”
La Crosse has used neighborhood officers in the past, Kabat said, describing the new program as “going back to your roots where officers walk a beat. Here, they’ll also bike a beat.”
Working out of an office in a house Mayo-Franciscan owns at 526 S. 10th St., officers Nathan Poke and Daniel Ulrich will forge relationships with residents and businesses in the neighborhood, Kabat said.
Funding comes from a three-year, $100,000-a-year grant from the U.S. Department of Justice and donations from Mayo-Franciscan, its auxiliary and Viterbo University to cover the salaries of the two officers.
Including benefits, the cost for each officer is about $75,000, said Police Chief Ron Tischer.
The federal grant, obtained through the office of U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., will pay for one officer for three years, he said. Mayo and Viterbo, both located in the southeast corner of the Washburn neighborhood, will kick in $37,500 apiece a year for three years for the other one.
“We had a vision at the police department to bring policing back to the community and neighborhoods we kind of lost touch with,” Tischer said.
Washburn was picked because of neighborhood involvement and the opportunity to enlist the help of Mayo-Franciscan and Viterbo, the chief said.
“We looked at this as one of the most effective communities to start,” he said.
Washington Neighborhood Association Chairwoman Vickie Unferth said, “I think it’s a great opportunity, and I’m glad it’s starting in our neighborhood.”
The Washburn site will be a prototype for others, Kabat said.
Plans are to add two community-based officers on the lower North Side and two in central La Crosse, Tischer said. The La Crosse Community Foundation recently awarded a $75,000 grant for an officer on the lower North Side at a site to be announced soon, Tischer said.
Mayo and Viterbo officials expressed enthusiasm about the program.
“It’s consistent with Franciscan values, one of many we’re involved in,” said Peter Hughes, Mayo’s regional vice president for business development and marketing.
Hughes cited the nearby community garden Mayo co-sponsors with the neighborhood association as another example of “partnering and participating in the neighborhood revitalization.”
“Viterbo likes to collaborate,” university President Rick Artman said, adding, “We know students and parents are concerned with safety. We want a safe and secure neighborhood.”
Washburn’s boundaries are the Mississippi River on the west, West Avenue on the east, Jackson Street on the south and Cass and Main streets on the north.
Stationing the officers in the neighborhood will provide positive role models for children there, including students at nearby Lincoln Middle School and those who participate in Boys and Girls Clubs programs in the Mathy Center at Viterbo, Artman and other officials said.
Poke and Ulrich will operate out of an office on the second floor of the two-story, tan house at 10th and Ferry streets. They also will be able to convene community meetings on the first floor of the house, which Mayo sometimes uses for training and meetings.
They are excited about the prospects.
“We’ll be able to dedicate a lot of time to build relationships with a lot of people we’re not able to do on daily patrols,” said Poke, who has been on the force for nearly three years.
Ulrich, a Houston, Minn., native who has been with the department for more than six years, said, “It’s a new challenge to work with people and improve their quality of life.”