One evening in August, David Selissen heard a stream of gunshots two blocks from his home in Hudson, Wis., just weeks after the police chief resigned in protest of what he said was an underfunded department.

The suspect, Selissen soon learned, fired an assault rifle at police before fleeing on Interstate Hwy. 94 across the river to Minnesota, where a homeowner subdued him in a frantic wrestling match.

Since that incident, Selissen said, many Hudson residents are scared. People worry about criminals coming across on the high-traffic I-94, he said.

"A group of us think that given the transient nature of people coming through here, we have more crime than a city our size should have," he said Friday, expressing his support for more money for police.

Debate over the extent of crime -- and effectiveness of the police budget -- is vigorous in Hudson, a city of about 12,000 residents. The city is preparing to hire its fourth police chief in less than two years in the wake of Andrew Smith's departure last summer. He had wanted more patrol officers, modern computers and a suitable police department building.

Both Smith and his successor, Interim Chief Eric Atkinson, stated in city documents that the police force was understaffed to the extent that it could not prevent crime but only react to it.

Atkinson said in a Sept. 11 budget proposal that only two officers patrol the city each shift.

He suggested hiring an assistant chief, a narcotics detective and three more patrol officers.

Next year's proposed city budget, however, doesn't include any of those positions. It does allow $98,880 to cover 2.5 percent wage increases for union patrol officers and sergeants, and about $21,000 for overtime pay.

Mayor Jack Breault, who wasn't available to comment Friday, had said this fall that tight Wisconsin levy restrictions imposed on cities prevent much extra spending.

Arguments over the police budget broke out again in recent weeks on the opinion pages of the local newspaper, the Hudson Star-Observer. Smith, angered that the city told Atkinson he's not in the running for police chief, said Breault "tries to lead by bullying, arrogance and micro-managing." Richard Trende, who retired recently after 13 years as police chief, objected to criticism of city leaders.

"The responsibility of a chief of police is to manage and be accountable," he wrote this week.

Atkinson, who was a patrol sergeant before being named interim chief, said Friday he had applied for the permanent job but was told he won't be considered because he doesn't have enough supervisory experience. The advertised position calls for a minimum of five years.

"I am disappointed that I wasn't allowed to go into the hiring process," he said. But he also said that the new chief will have his "full support" when he returns to his previous position.

In his budget proposal, Atkinson wrote that police department staffing is critically low at a bad time.

"Due to the increase in population and urban sprawl of the Twin Cities metro area we have seen high levels of property crime and recent rises in violent crime," he wrote.

But City Council Member Scot O'Malley said the department's own crime statistics show that violent crime has declined in Hudson over the past several years. He said that both Atkinson and Smith have done Hudson residents a disfavor by portraying crime as being worse than it is.

Dale Willi, a member of Hudson's citizen Police and Fire Commission, said Friday that no police chief candidates have been interviewed. He said that before naming finalists the commission was awaiting results of a state exam given to applicants.

O'Malley said Friday that he wants the city to hire a "stable, level-headed leader" who he said would reflect the work ethic on Hudson's police force.

"They don't make wild claims or write crazy letters, they just get up and do the job," he said of the staff. "I hope to get a police chief who will be their voice to the public and address their concerns in a constructive and effective manner."

Kevin Giles • 651-298-1554