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Madison City Council creates police review board, alder work group

Madison City Council creates police review board, alder work group

City-County Building

City-County Building, 210 Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd.

With approval from the City Council Tuesday, a work group will begin laying the groundwork to implement two police reform initiatives: an independent auditor and civilian review board. 

These civilian review mechanisms were recommended by the Madison Police Department Policy Procedure and Review Ad Hoc Committee after years of studying the MPD and are meant to increase community accountability over the police.  

“The time is now to start working on the implementation of our recommendations,” Veronica Figueroa, a member of the ad hoc committee, said. “Our communities of color can no longer wait for these to happen.”   

With the nation reeling over the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis and spurred to protest, the City Council is under pressure from the community to take action. Tensions are high after the MPD used pepper spray and less lethal weapons on some protesters two weeks ago.  

Keith Findley, co-chair of the ad hoc committee, echoed Figueroa. 

“To delay action on this in these times of community tension and pain over bickering over who gets to be on the working committee would be a real disservice to our community,” Findley said. 

Alders voted 16-4 to create the oversight board and a three-member workgroup that will oversee the logistical, legal and financial groundwork that is necessary to implement the board and independent auditor. Last week, the Finance Committee referred action on the independent auditor to a meeting in July. 

President Sheri Carter, who represents District 14; Ald. Samba Baldeh, District 17; Ald. Paul Skidmore, District 9; and Ald. Barbara Harrington-McKinney, District 1; voted against the resolution.

Carter, Baldeh and Harrington-McKinney disagreed with the process by which the work group was created. A proposal from Ald. Samba Baldeh, District 17, to increase the size of the alder work group to five members failed. 

Carter said she would have appreciated if alders had been invited to sit on the work group rather than naming the three individuals.  

“When there is no process, there is confusion,” Harrington-McKinney said.  

‘Now is the time’

Alds. Rebecca Kemble, District 18; Shiva Bidar, District 5; and Donna Moreland, District 7; are members of the work group and are tasked with the following: 

  • Creating an ordinance that would establish independent civilian oversight of the MPD
  • Identifying budget measures to support the civilian oversight board and independent auditor
  • Identifying community organizations to nominate board members.
  • Creating a timeline and process for recruitment for members of the oversight board and auditor position

Kemble said it is “beyond time” to start working on these recommendations.

“Now is the time to do the work of translating the language in the recommendations into law by writing ordinances and by writing budget amendments to make it real,” Kemble said. 

In an email sent to all alders Monday, Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway expressed her support toward implementing the civilian review mechanisms. 

“I am writing to let you know that I stand ready to work with you to create a strong and independent police auditor, and a strong and independent civilian police oversight body,” Rhodes-Conway said. 

Several speakers, including Kabzaug Vag of Freedom Inc., said they were disappointed that months have gone by without the city acting on these civilian review mechanisms, which the City Council adopted last summer ahead of accepting the ad hoc committee’s entire report in January. 

Carter said the process of creating the civilian review board has been a “very painful process,” with over 1,500 emails received. 

“We can’t heal the city of Madison and we can't move the city of Madison — whether it’s police reform, whether it’s public health, whether it's affordable housing — if there’s not compassion between each of us.” 

Legal questions 

Jenna Rousseau, an attorney for the Police & Fire Commission, raised questions over the civilian review board in a letter June 12 saying that the position description may “conflict with” or “encroach upon” the authority of the PFC. 

Madison’s five-member PFC has authority under state statute regarding the hiring, promotion and discipline of police and fire personnel. 

Rousseau argued in her letter that some of the civilian review board’s authority, including recommending changes to discipline, use of force, hiring and training, could infringe on the power of the PFC. 

Further, Rousseau said that it is likely the auditor and PFC’s roles could conflict. 

“Although the PFC does not have general oversight or general supervision regarding day-to-day management of the police department, it seems likely that the Police Auditor’s responsibilities will overlap with the PFC’s statutory powers and duties in other ways,” Rousseau said in the letter. 

However, Findley said in a letter responding to Rousseau that though the auditor and oversight board will work on issues within the “purview” of the PFC, “they will not intrude on the authority of the PFC.”

The board and auditor will make recommendations and will not have the authority to impose discipline.

"It would be a disservice to both the PFC and the MPD if we were to inhibit any initiative to make police oversight more effective, transparent, and responsive to community needs," Findley said. "It is never a good time to minimize community input into policing. This would be a particularly bad time." 

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