After meeting for nearly four years, a committee studying ways to improve the Madison Police Department has released 177 recommendations for the mayor and City Council to consider.
The long-awaited recommendations from the resident-led Madison Police Department Policy Procedure & Review Ad Hoc Committee, created following the officer-involved shooting and death of Tony Robinson in March 2015, followed an in-depth report led by the OIR Group, consultants based in California.
In a letter from the co-chairs that notes the MPD’s “long record of progressive policing,” Keith Findley and Tom Brown write that the report should not be interpreted as an “indictment” of the police department.
“It reflects the recognition that, as the OIR report identified and our own inquiries revealed, the Police Department does not always live up to its progressive ideals, and that even a Department with many strengths can be made better,” Findley and Brown said.
The recommendations address areas of civilian oversight of law enforcement, the relationship between police and the community, mental health response and use of force. Some urge that the MPD continue programs, like Unpaid Ticket Resolution Days, while others will “push MPD outside of its comfort zone.”
"The Common Council will carefully review, deliberate and determine the next steps for all the recommendations in a collaborative effort to strengthen the public trust," Council President Shiva Bidar said in a statement.
Many of the recommendations build on the OIR report while others are generated by individual committee members, a community group, a past city work group on policing issues and Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison.
Of the total number of recommendations, the committee identified 43 that would have a potential budgetary impact.
At the outset, the report acknowledges that engagement with and oversight of the police department by residents is “essential,” especially when there is distrust between the MPD and some of Madison’s communities.
“It is foundational to building a more cohesive relationship and rapport between all communities and the MPD moving forward,” they said.
The Madison City Council authorized spending $400,000 on the OIR study of the MPD in June 2016 at a tense meeting fueled by long-standing anger over officer-involved shootings and concerns over recently — and abruptly — retired Police Chief Mike Koval’s actions at public meetings.
Interim police chief Vic Wahl has said his priorities include continuing to implement recommendations from the OIR Group and said the MPD will be “as responsive as we can” to the ad hoc committee’s recommendations.
“To the extent there’s other recommendations outside of OIR, we’ll look at those and we'll be making some determinations as to what’s feasible, what are good ideas, what aren’t, what’s workable, what isn’t and go from there,” Wahl said.
Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway has already taken action on the committee’s first recommendation — creating an independent monitor’s office — which was introduced ahead of the full report. The mayor included $200,000 in her 2020 operating budget proposal for the position, which would, in part, keep the MPD accountable with its own policies.
As a part of the recommendation that was adopted already by the City Council, the independent monitor would report to a civilian review board. The committee recommends that the monitor and board would have access to MPD records, subpoena power and power to investigate, make policy recommendations and facilitate the presentation of information to the Police and Fire Commission.
The committee believes the independent monitor will be critical to carrying out the rest of the report.
“In the interest of public safety and order, the people yield to police the authority to deprive community members of their freedom, coerce compliance with directives, and apply physical force, even deadly force, when needed,” the report states. “In a free and democratic society, the people must have the ability to oversee the manner in which that authority is exercised.”
Also ahead of the full report, Madison’s City Council adopted a recommendation to develop a “robust” review process after critical incidents, such as an officer-involved shooting, that examines the incident with a “non-blaming” approach.
The report calls out a number of high-profile officer-involved shootings and other uses of force that have unsettled the community. Most recently, video footage of Madison police officers responding to a teenager in a mental health crisis sparked outrage.
“One of the key challenges facing MPD is working to minimize the occurrence of such critical incidents, and when they inevitably occur, figuring out how to respond appropriately to them,” the report states. “The issues raised by critical incidents span a broad range of considerations, from training to standards governing the use of force, to data collection, to processes for holding officers accountable for inappropriate uses of force, and others.”
The report includes a number of recommendations specifically addressing mental health resources and training, including creating a dedicated mental health first responder unit.
Several recommendations address how the MPD operates internally. For example, the committee recommends conducting regular internal surveys and reinstituting an officer performance evaluation system.
A recommendation from Findley calls for the MPD to provide mentors for officers from underrepresented groups to help them prepare and apply for promotions.