In its detailed response to a consultant group’s comprehensive review of the Madison Police Department, MPD leaders found points of agreement and areas where they say the consulting group “misses the mark.”
In the response released Wednesday, the MPD said it would “take years and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars” to implement all of the report's 146 recommendations, and also said it viewed the report not as a way to fix the department but as a resource to move the agency forward.
In a separate interview, Chief Mike Koval said the report was "very much a triumphant validation and affirmation that this is a pretty good department. Could we stand areas of improvement? But of course we can."
The report and the response are the latest developments in the long-running controversy following the shooting death of Tony Robinson by a Madison police officer in March 2015.
The MPD Policy Procedure & Review Ad Hoc Committee, created following Robinson's death, selected the OIR Group in October 2016 to lead a year-long comprehensive study of the department.
Madison’s City Council approved the $400,000 study after a confrontational discussion in June 2016 that ended in the early hours of the morning. A vitriolic blog post written by Koval that criticized the city and its funding priorities published two days before the meeting fueled the debate.
Koval said the MPD was "open and honest and accessible" throughout the consultant's year long study.
The consultants were tasked with analyzing the MPD’s policies, practices, culture and training and ultimately to identify areas of improvement and to make recommendations.
The consultants found that the MPD is “far from ‘a Department in crisis,’” despite the divisive dialogue preceding their work. Many areas of the department were deemed “unusually progressive,” and the consultants found the MPD’s efforts to connect with the public “conscientious and often laudable.”
However, the OIR Group said the MPD could make improvements across a number of areas including critical incident response, civilian oversight and performance reviews.
"We’re looking at this as a mechanism for our long term strategic plan in which we strive to look at these issues and others that come up," Koval said.
Responding to critical incidents
Some of the most significant disagreement between the OIR Group and city officials centered around how the MPD should respond to "critical incidents," defined as when a police officer causes injury likely to cause death or intentionally discharges a firearm at someone.
In their report, the OIR Group recommended changes that would ensure independent state investigators get a statement from officers who are involved in or witness critical incidents prior to the end of their shifts. Additionally, consultants recommended a change that would ensure that those investigators — who are responsible for determining whether officers broke the law — obtain statements before they have an opportunity to review any incident recordings.
The consultants said those changes would be more consistent with best investigative practices and increase the community's level of trust in the process.
But both the MPD and the city attorney's office — whose remarks were included in the department response Wednesday — raised multiple concerns about those recommendations.
"Because officers involved in a critical incident can face criminal prosecution for their actions, it would be a violation of their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination to compel a statement after a critical incident," the city attorney's office said, adding that doing so would therefore compromise any case the district attorney might bring against an officer.
Currently, the department takes a summary statement from officers immediately after critical incidents to gather information about such things as injuries, the type of force used, location of witnesses and evidence.
In addition, officers are given the option to speak to outside investigators, typically within 24 to 72 hours after the incident. That time frame is beneficial because it allows an officer to be well-rested for the interview and allows investigators time to fully understand the events surrounding the critical incident, the MPD response says.
In what would be a major structural change if implemented, the consultants recommended creating an independent auditor position who would report to an appointed community review board.
The additional civilian oversight would fill “gaps” beyond what the Police and Fire Commission is authorized to do by state law: hire, fire and discipline. The PFC selects the chief of police, approves new hires, approves promotional decisions and accepts complaints against MPD personnel.
The MPD is not opposed to an independent auditor but says the position would be expensive and would likely require additional staffing. The department also said jurisdictions with civilian oversight mechanisms are typically larger agencies with a greater history of poor internal accountability than Madison and do not have a PFC.
"If policymakers believe having an independent auditor would move the public toward greater trust, that’s their prerogative," Koval said.
The auditor would receive public complaints, conduct independent audits, recommend systemic and policy reform, participate in critical incident reviews and report to the public. The community review board would issue assignments for the auditor, hold public meetings and consider recommendations by the auditor.
An auditor position would come at an expense.
OIR Group Principal Michael Gennaco previously estimated that the position could get started for about $200,000 per year. The MPD reported that Denver’s Office of the Independent Monitor, suggested by OIR as a model, has 14 employees and an annual budget exceeding $1.5 million.
“The OIR Group is a clear and consistent advocate for civilian oversight of police,” the MPD’s response states. “Indeed, during our discussions with OIR about this concept, it was clear that a recommendation for an independent auditor was not in response to inadequacies in MPD’s internal investigative process or use of force practices.”
The city attorney could support the position but would need more details, according to the response.
“The City Attorney believes that there may be a lot to gain in terms of public trust in the MPD if a truly independent and professional auditor could provide some outside review of incidents,” the response states.
Data and performance reviews
The MPD disagreed with the consultant’s conclusion that it lacks evidence of what patrol officers are doing on the job. The OIR Group suggested instituting daily activity logs for patrol officers, including neighborhood-based and specialized officers, to understand what officers are doing.
While traditional crime-rate metrics are easier to capture, they are insufficient for tracking officer activity and evaluating effectiveness, according to the MPD.
Most of what patrol officers do is documented through the 911 Center’s computer aided dispatch system. However, work of non-patrol officers is not captured by this system.
Over the years, the MPD has created a process by which the department’s community policing teams enter daily data as a unit. In addition to traditional measures such as arrests, citations and traffic stops, other community policing activities including foot patrol, community events and neighborhood meetings are captured.
The MPD said the usefulness of these metrics is limited and would capture outputs but not outcomes.
The OIR Group also recommended that the MPD reinstate a performance evaluation system for officers that “collects and incentivizes progressive policing activity.”
Currently, department employees formally meet with their direct supervisors each quarter to discuss MPD-wide and individual goals. However, the MPD is moving toward a more formal feedback mechanism.
While the OIR report did not make recommendations on the department's size, some recommendations may require additional staffing, according to the MPD's response. The City Council recently funded eight new police officers at a controversial meeting.
Koval said perhaps the independent consultant's recommendations would persuade MPD critics to support a larger department.
"Perhaps people will be less inclined to think there is some sort of desire on my part to build an empire," Koval said. "What I'm trying to do is respond to the needs."