Local Police Projects: Pork or Money Well Spent?

By: Melissa Wollering
By: Melissa Wollering

Redesigning State Street and a county-wide communications system for police: one government watchdog group is calling both a waste of federal money. Citizens Against Government Waste released its annual Pigbook, a listing of what it calls pork spending.

Several projects in and around Madison made in including $500,000 for communications upgrades for Madison's Police Department. However, the project isn't pork to the fifteen other communities benefiting from it.

Monona operates its own dispatch center with a little help from a big brother. It rents space from the Madison radio system, which was funded in-part by federal grant money. With the flick of a button, Madison officers can talk to Monona officers. Monona was also the first department to join Madison's regional records system.

"By sharing that data with other law enforcement agencies, you're better able to solve the crimes that are happening basically right across the street that might be happening in another jurisdiction," says Monona Police Chief Walter Ostrenga.

Still, UW-Madison Political Science Professor David Canon says money used for projects like these isn't money well spent to everyone. Canon says members of Congress can be criticized for bringing home too little for local projects or too much in the eyes of other states.

"Pork is in the eye of the beholder, which basically means one person's pork is another person's essential spending," says Canon. "They tack on these small spending earmarks that then cannot be removed because they've become part of the larger bill, so it's that process that often defines this pork-barrel spending."

Still, those on the receiving end say the process isn't as important as the end result.

"We could not afford to be involved in a system like this on our own," says Chief Ostrenga.

"I think people can feel pretty good that we are bringing federal dollars back home to enhance public safety in Madison and Dane County," says Madison Police Department's Joe Balles.

Madison and surrounding departments have received more than $4,000,000 in federal earmarks in the last five years. To put this so-called pork in perspective, one project getting a lot of attention in Alaska is the infamous "bridge to nowhere." That state is receiving $230 million to connect an island with 50 people to the state's mainland.

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