UPDATED: Tuesday, September 24, 2013-- 6:00 p.m.
To the officer it at first looked like just a pile of blankets, but underneath was a family of 10, including a baby, leaving a home of violence in Chicago and struggling to rebuild their lives here. The officer said she had to help.
"I thought knowing how cold it was, I had to check on them," said Madison police officer, Cindy Thiesenhusen.
Thiesenhusen and her parter Sue Krause often check on the homeless during their patrols. But this Sunday morning, what they found on State Street was heartbreaking.
"Children, infants sleeping on the sidewalk... That was really troubling to me," said Krause.
"We see children and our hearts break and bleed," said Thiesenhusen.
There were four adults, several toddlers, and a 5 month old. It was a family who had, out of despration, left a dangerous neighborhood on Chicago's south side.
"Bullets were flying like crazy," said Krause. "It was almost like these folks were refugees."
The mother had managed to find a job in Madison. She was at it that morning. The rest were struggling to find work.
"They were prepared to start their lives here. It was just a matter of catching that break," said Thiesenhusen.
Thiesenhusen and Krause packed up the family's luggage in their squads and took them to a church nearby who gave them a hot meal and a place to stay.
"We were able to find a couple of churches that really came through for us," said Thiesenhusen.
"They were so gracious and grateful," said Krause.
A local church put the family up in a hotel for a couple of days so they can get back on their feet.
The sergeant submitted a performance recognition report regarding the work of the two officers, one part saying, "These officers should be commended for the compassion and empathy they have displayed. They could have checked the welfare of the children and left... They did not."
UPDATED Tuesday, September 24, 2013 --- 4:30 p.m.
Officers Cindy Thiesenhusen and Sue Krause are the Madison Police officers who helped a family in need Sunday.
Hear from them tonight on NBC15 News at 5 and 6.
Posted Tuesday, September 24, 2013 --- 11:34 a.m.
Madison Police are commending two of their officers for helping a family discovered out in the cold on State St. Sunday morning.
Below is the incident report from the Madison Police Department, detailing the officers' actions:
At first, the veteran downtown patrol officer thought it was just a pile of blankets, and some belongings, left temporarily on State St. by homeless people. Such a site is not unusual in the Center City, particularly along the bustling and eclectic corridor that connects the State Capitol with the UW-Madison campus.
The officer did not suspect humans were beneath the bedding, but she was wrong. For a short time later, a man on his way to work contacted the officer. He said he could hear a baby crying in the cold of the late September Sunday morning. The waling was coming from beneath that pile the officer had spotted as she began her tour of duty.
She went to investigate and discovered there were four adults and six children huddled together: an extended family that included a several toddlers, a 5-month old, a 9-year old, and 13-year old. The group's older members were shocked a police officer seemed so concerned for their welfare. They explained they had escaped the Englewood neighborhood of Chicago's South Side. They weren't looking for any handouts, they told the officer. "They fled Chicago from where a lot of shootings and deaths were occurring," said the officer. "It was just too dangerous to stay; some people they knew were killed," she explained.
Like many refuges, they wanted to start afresh, where it was much safer. They came to Madison. The officer said it appeared they had been living on the streets for a couple of weeks. She looked at the children and knew she must try to help. "They are so innocent and at the mercy of the situation," said the officer. She enlisted the help of another downtown officer, and together they started making contacts with those who might be able to help. Before they were done, three churches (First United Methodist, Second Baptist, and Community of Hope UCC) had stepped forward with food, or money for short term hotel stays. The officers, using a prisoner transport van, gathered the family and their belongings. They also supplied them with a few items donated to the MPD for those times when officers encounter people in crisis: stuffed animals, blankets, and books. "We just wanted to take the edge off a little," said the primary officer. A MPD sergeant, who assisted in the move from the streets, said one of the group's adult men "was choked up and had difficulty expressing himself – clearly his gratitude was overwhelming."
The sergeant has submitted a performance recognition report regarding the work of the two officers. It, in part, reads: "These officers should be commended for the compassion and empathy they have displayed. They could have checked the welfare of the children and left; the day was warming and no further threat. They did not. They made sure that this family was provided reprieve from the unpleasant reality their current situation has provided. In addition, they have provided this family with resources and contacts to ensure they have the opportunity to improve the current arrangement. The most poignant result of the contact this family had with these officers is the change in perception. This contact has shattered how this family sees the police. This call is just another example of the energy and compassion (MPD officers) put into their day-to-day work. I am extremely proud to work alongside officers that represent the MPD with such honor and professionalism."
The first responding officer said members of the family are seeking, or have found work. Their future still holds many questions, but they are away from the bullets, and they will be warm tonight, thanks to police officers and the caring community they serve.