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Community gathering

Madison police Capt. Cory Nelson serves food during a community gathering to unveil the department's new Neighborhood Resource Trailer at an outreach event along Raymond Road on Wednesday. Currently, consultants say that the Madison Police Department does not have a mechanism to measure how often officers engage in non-traditional policing activities.

Madison officials began publicly dissecting a comprehensive analysis of the Madison Police Department Thursday. Some members of the MPD Policy Procedure and Review Ad Hoc Committee hope will be a provide a vision for the department's future.

The OIR Group completed a thorough review of the department and issued 146 recommendations in December after seven week-long site visits over the course of a year. Areas of improvement include community relations and engagement; response to critical incidents; use of force; internal culture and protocols; accountability; and civilian oversight.    

“We feel strongly our recommendations are attainable,” OIR principal Michael Gennaco said. “Most of the recommendations are relatively resource neutral.”

However, there are some that would require additional financial resources. Likely the most expensive of these is the recommendation to create a community review board and independent auditor, which Gennaco estimated could get started for about $200,000 per year.

An auditor’s responsibilities would include receiving public complaints, conducting independent audits, recommending systemic and policy reform, participating in critical incident reviews and reporting to the public.

“The police auditor function could and should fill the role that we sort of did by identifying issues and reporting regularly an unvarnished perspective outside of the department by what’s going on in the department,” Gennaco said.

The community review board would commission assignments for the auditor, hold public meetings and consider recommendations by the auditor, according to the report. The board should also be an independent and unbiased group that is representative of the city as a whole, OIR principal Stephen Connolly said.

“The idea of the civilian piece is extremely important to making it work in Madison,” Connolly said.

A common theme that emerged in the report addresses how well the MPD’s ideals are translated to the daily work of police officers. For example, Chief Mike Koval has said he wants patrol officers to spend half of their time engaging in non-traditional policing.

“What we also don’t know — because it doesn’t exist — is to the degree that that ideal is being promulgated, that that ideal is going on on a day-to-day basis,” Gennaco said.

Unlike traditional policing activities that have a paper trail such as issuing citations and arresting people, it is more difficult to capture the amount of community policing happening in Madison.

The consultants recommend neighborhood officers and patrol officers keep daily activity logs and encourage the department to share information about incidents involving deescalation and other innovative solutions.

If collected, this data could inform staffing levels, which was not included as part of the study. Gennaco did say that more resources would be needed if officers are splitting their duties between traditional and non-traditional policing activities.

In a survey of police officers conducted as part of the report, 18.5 percent of the 130 officers who responded cited an understaffed department as a frustrating aspect of their job.

“Hire more officers so we can adequately handle calls for service and have more requests for days off approved,” one officer said.

“I would remedy the staffing issues so that officers were more able to attend specialized trainings and take time off,” said another.

'Seize the moment'

Some committee members and officials view the report as a launching point. Ad hoc committee member Matthew Braunginn emphasized that the committee is not going to “rubber stamp” the OIR Group’s report, but will develop its own recommendations.

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“We can’t just continue with the status quo if we want to see change. In Madison’s case we won't be over the horizon until we live up to our current convictions,” Braunginn said. “Right now this report shows us we’re not.”

Keith Findley, another committee member, characterized the report as thorough and fair.

“Much of what it does is reinforce our understanding of how the MPD really has good core values and has progressive ideals, while at the same time recognizing that there are problems still and that there are ways to resolve them,” Findley said.

The City Council authorized $400,000 to fund the study. As of Monday, Finance Director Dave Schmiedicke said the city so far has paid $346,625 under the contract.

“I think it was worth it, and I think you justified that expense,” Ald. Mark Clear, District 19, said to the consultants.

Outgoing committee chair Luis Yudice said the value of the report will be measured by how the city moves forward. If the report is “talked to death,” it will be a “waste of time,” Yudice said.

“We really want to seize the moment,” Yudice said. “We don’t want to lose the momentum or the energy."

Moving forward, the committee will continue to the review the OIR report and attempt to engage the public. The police department and city attorney's office are expected to respond to the recommendations.

“This is only the beginning of the really important work,” Yudice said.

Share your opinion on this topic by sending a letter to the editor to tctvoice@madison.com. Include your full name, hometown and phone number. Your name and town will be published. The phone number is for verification purposes only. Please keep your letter to 250 words or less.

Abigail Becker joined The Capital Times in 2016, where she primarily covers city and county government. She previously worked for the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism and the Wisconsin State Journal.