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Blog

New fund aims to avoid problems seen in other cities

December 18, 2020

Jamie Schloegel, Executive DirectorBy Jamie Schloegel, Executive Director

Bringing better transparency to policing

Another community collaboration is underway to make La Crosse County a safer place to call home — this time aiming to bring complete transparency to interactions between police officers and community members.

Combining resources to outfit every officer with a body cam

It’s through the Safer Coulee Region Fund, newly established at the La Crosse Community Foundation. The fund brings together federal grant dollars, area police departments and community members to ensure every law enforcement officer in La Crosse County is equipped with a body camera.

La Crosse Assistant Police Chief Rob Abraham applied for the U.S. Department of Justice grant while resident Joe Konradt began talking with the community foundation about raising funds. The parties only recently realized it was a collaboration in the making, particularly as the grant requires benefiting municipalities to match federal dollars.

Abraham and Konradt had both watched as Kenosha became the epicenter for race-related protests and violence after Jacob Blake’s shooting.

Konradt recalled thinking at the time, “If it can happen there. It can happen here.” Now, he’s on a mission to help local law enforcement and the communities they serve to raise the $137,071 required match for the grant. So far, he’s about a quarter of the way to the goal.

Learning from protests to bring better solutions

“People protest to bring about solutions,” said Konradt. “When we saw the protests in a fellow Wisconsin city, we knew we needed to be proactive about this. We want an environment here where people know they’re going to be treated safely at the outset. Our confidence in our police officers and our community is important. This is a way for us to avoid problems like those we’ve seen elsewhere.”

The collaboration, however, is bigger than the La Crosse Police Department and Konradt. It also involves law enforcement agencies and residents from six other municipalities, each taking on a share of the fundraising responsibility proportionate to their share of the grant proceeds. At $85,771, the La Crosse share, like the municipality, is the largest. Others include:

Onalaska Police Department — $27,900
Village of West Salem Police — $9,000
Ho-Chunk Nation Police — $5,400
Town of Campbell Police — $4,500
Village of Bangor Police — $2,700
Town of Shelby Police — $1,800

The Holmen Police Department recently invested in its own body cameras, and the La Crosse County Sheriff’s Office is pursuing grant funding on its own.

“This collaboration is vital to increasing law enforcement transparency and legitimacy, especially concerning the minority community of La Crosse County,” said Abraham. He said the fact they were able to assemble such an extraordinary collaboration among local agencies underscores that body-worn cameras are good for officers and citizens.

The benefit of body cams

“Research has shown that body cameras reduce complaints, cause improved behavior and influence community member reporting rates for the better,” said Abraham. “At the same time the cameras can also quickly identify if an officer has acted inappropriately or outside of agency policy.”

Konradt noted funds raised will cover the cost of the body cameras along with two-thirds of maintenance costs for the second year and a third of maintenance costs for the third year, giving the
police departments time to integrate the costs into their budgets.

The benefit of raising funds through LCF

Going through the La Crosse Community Foundation offers three advantages, said Konradt. First, it means contributions may be tax-deductible; second, it allows people to give anonymously to the effort; and third, it means the funds will be administered correctly.

“We already had a program set up exactly for this sort of thing,” said La Crosse Community Foundation Executive Director Jamie Schloegel. “We have a standing agreement with the La Crosse City Council to start special project funds like this when philanthropy is needed to complete city related projects. This is another wonderful example of the transformative power of partnerships around shared objectives, of how we often can do far more when we collaborate than when we work alone.”

If you are able to help with a donation to the fund, please do

To support the fund, visit laxcommfoundation.org/donate and note in the designation box that your gift is for Safer Coulee Region Fund.