Emergency services in Fort Atkinson are more strained than ever, caused by a growing population. Officials say that is made more difficult due to the amount of police department time spent responding to calls from the city’s community-based residential facilities (CBRFs) — commonly called group homes.
Fort Atkinson Police Chief Adrian Bump presented police call data from 2019 to the city council Tuesday, saying that call volume to CBRFs has continued to increase.
The rise comes even after a three-year moratorium on developing these facilities in the city limits sought to help with the problem — ending in 2018 with the creation of the Fort Adult Care Consortium (FACC) and new enforcement rules for the police department.
“2019 resulted in the highest number of calls to community-based residential facilities, to date,” Bump said. “It’s continued to go up and it’s a little too early to say for sure, but since lifting the moratorium, we’re slowing lifting every quarter.”
The call data shows there were 114 calls for service to these facilities in the first quarter of 2019, 144 in the second, 123 in the third and 135 in the fourth.
Bump said the city’s efforts have reduced calls from the CBRFs for fire and EMS, but the police calls have been a difficult problem to solve.
“I don’t know if there’s anything we can do to reduce the amount of calls,” Bump said. “These places, by their nature, take a lot of calls. There’s just a lot of needs that happen. Being in the community helps these people have a good quality of life, but then there’s the other side of it.”
Part of what makes these calls so difficult for the department, Bump said, is the length of time they take for an officer.
Responding to a mental health check at one facility often can lead to an officer spending 10 to 12 hours on just that call, according to Bump. He said it starts with the officer responding to the facility, then taking that person to Fort Memorial Hospital and sitting for what can be several hours while the department and Jefferson County Human Services look for an open bed at a mental health facility.
Once the bed is found, the officer has to transport the person to the facility, which can sometimes be a two-and-a-half hour drive to Green Bay. Then, after dropping off the person, the officer has to drive back to Fort Atkinson and write a report on the entire call.
But, Bump said, there are efforts to help. A new facility is set to be constructed in Madison that will make drives to Green Bay less common and Jefferson County Human Services recently received a grant to add a staff member as a liaison between the group homes and county.
Bump also said the facilities that see the most calls have responded well to a chronic nuisance warning issued by the department. These “teeth” allow the city to bill the facility for police services if it does not respond to the warning.
The police department has had to deal with the increase in calls at the same time its staff has remained the same, Bump said.
Council member Jude Hartwick said that perhaps it is time for the city to look into increasing help for the department.
“In my opinion, I think it’s time we start adding officers,” Hartwick said “Or we get creative with it.”
Hartwick’s creative option was adding a social worker to the police department staff who could help respond to these calls.
As the numbers continue to rise, council President Paul Kotz said, he is worried about the strain starting to impact other members of the community if the department is too busy with the CBRFs.
“I think we’re particularly concerned if demands on emergency services become an extreme burden and it starts affecting other citizens,” Kotz said.