Funding non-police mental health responses in Dane County is more important than ever

DCSO is killing more people and asking for more money—but where’s the investment in alternate mental-health models?
an illustration shows a brain divided into two halves, with a medical-style red cross in the middle.
Illustration by Dan Fitch.

DCSO is killing more people and asking for more money—but where’s the investment in alternate mental-health models?

On October 13, deputies with the Dane County Sheriff’s Office shot and killed Quantaze Campbell, but as of November 3, DCSO has provided no explanation. Silence. Not even the usual questionable copaganda telling a fabulated sequence of events that led to his death. Just silence. 

The Wisconsin Department of Justice had to step in before Cody Woods, the deputy who shot and killed Campbell, was finally identified. And 10 days later, DCSO deputies killed yet another person.

Meanwhile, DCSO is asking for an additional $3.5 million this budget season. For the 2022 budget, Sheriff Kalvin Barrett provided a letter summarizing and explaining his department’s budget requests; if such a letter exists this year, it hasn’t been shared with the public. Still, County Executive Joe Parisi recommended giving the Sheriff’s Office an additional $250,000 for mental health response teams composed of sheriff deputies and mental health experts.


Dane County Sheriff’s Office budgets, by the numbers


*Full-time equivalent employees

See DCSO’s detailed 2023 budget request.

In 2022‘s, there was a letter attached from the Sheriff explaining the budget, which is missing in 2023.

While we shouldn’t rush to judgment on these particular cases, we should probably be rushing to judge DCSO as a whole, considering these entries in the context of a wider panoply of failings. The Wisconsin State Journal wrote that Parisi has been unhappy with the lack of transparency out of the Sheriff’s office on the Quadren Wilson shooting investigation. And we don’t even track all the people shot and not killed by cops in this country. So what are the actual consequences? 

We can’t enforce accountability on actors who are uninterested in holding themselves accountable. The only thing we can do is cut their funding. And that’s what we should be unafraid to do. 

At the Tuesday, October 25 meeting of Dane County’s Health and Human Needs committee, District 2 Supervisor Heidi Wegleitner introduced an amendment to the county budget, HHN-O-14. (Scroll down—navigating the county’s budget documents is unfortunately a mess.) This amendment passed 7-0 in that meeting, and intends to reallocate funds to expand the City of Madison’s successful CARES pilot, which sends teams of mental health experts and emergency medical techs to mental health-related incidents. (See previous Tone Madison coverage.)

The CARES program is hopefully being expanded in the 2023 city budget cycle to add an additional team so they can cover 12 hours a day, 7 days a week; an improvement from the initial pilot of 8 hours a day, 5 days a week. With additional funding, availability could be expanded further. Or the program could be expanded outside the City of Madison. We could also look at opening up the types of calls the CARES teams respond to. The pilot is quite clearly working, but it’s likely that listening to police and sheriff pressure will cause us to move backward instead of forward on unarmed mental health responses.

We know that providing treatment and health care is a real solution to reducing crime, not ripping people from their families and support networks and holding them in cages. Barrett himself has explained that currently 80% of his calls are mental health calls. So why are we continuing to plan to send people with guns to those calls? The $250,000 for mental health response teams at the sheriff’s office in the 2023 budget will fund a program under which DCSO responds to mental health crises by sending a mental health expert and a deputy with a gun.

We continue to listen to the Sheriff’s Office as if they are experts on public safety, but their opinions on jail expansion have just been self-interested demands for a bigger tower, more cages, and more power. Should we really be giving mental health response oversight to a Sheriff’s department that’s killing people, when the City of Madison’s CARES pilot has been so successful? Should we really be giving more power to an office that has a very questionable history across the US

Barrett has an opponent in the general election, a litigious internal challenger from the right. But nobody contested him from the reform side—or from further left—during the primary this spring. That’s a straight-up failure for supposedly liberal Madison. 

Said simply: we need to continue to build mental health support systems that don’t put people in the sights of our carceral state, or kill them outright. At the county level, we should all be supporting efforts like the Mental Health Triage and Restoration Center. When the City of Madison implements something good, like CARES, it would be great to see some collaboration between the county and city governments to expand on that, instead of pretending an armed mental health response run by the Sheriff’s Office will have the same results as sending EMTs.

This post has been updated to reflect the total budget of the Dane County Sheriff’s Office.

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