MPD squad car (copy)

In what would be its first proposals to the City Council following a consultant’s review of the Madison Police Department, an ad hoc committee is prepared to submit recommendations calling for civilian oversight mechanisms and a comprehensive internal review process. 

In what would be its first proposal to the City Council following a consultant’s review of the Madison Police Department, an ad hoc committee is prepared to submit a recommendation calling for civilian oversight mechanisms.

The MPD Policy Procedure & Review Ad Hoc Committee, created following the officer-involved shooting and death of Tony Robinson, has already approved the recommendation that would create an independent monitor’s office and civilian review body. 

Co-chair Keith Findley said civilian oversight is “essential for the success” of the other recommendations. 

“Without the independent monitor and the civilian review board, there is no good mechanism for ensuring that all of the other recommendations that the committee is making is actually followed through on,” Findley said. “Without that, you run the risk that this is another report that sits on a shelf somewhere.” 

The ad hoc committee was poised to vote Thursday on specific language for the City Council to conside, but the committee failed to make quorum — a re-occurring problem for the group.  

“We’re kind of struggling with the quorum,” co-chair Tom Brown said. “It’s like pulling teeth at this point, but we are very optimistic it will get done.” 

Also on Thursday, the committee was expected to finalize language for the City Council to consider regarding a recommendation for the MPD to develop a “robust” review process after a critical incident, such as an officer-involved shooting, that examines the incident with a “non-blaming” approach. 

The committee began meeting in December 2015. Over three years later, Findley said the lengthy timeline has affected attendance. 

In June 2016 at a contentious meeting, the City Council adopted a $400,000 resolution to fund a comprehensive review of the MPD. Months later in October, the ad hoc committee selected the California-based OIR Group to head up the effort. 

The OIR Group’s full report, released in December 2017, found that although the department can be “unusually progressive, effective, and ‘ahead of the curve'’’ in some areas, the past few years have been difficult for the Madison community and police department.

Since then, the ad hoc committee has been studying the OIR Group’s 146 recommendations and developing its own report for the mayor and City Council to consider. 

“The committee has been going on for so long that attrition is starting to take its toll, so it is increasingly difficult to make quorum,” Findley said. “But we’re near the end.” 

Despite the scheduling challenges, Brown said he is positive about the currently unfinished report. 

“We’re a little picky with bits and pieces of it, but we feel we owe the community the best product that we can put out there,” Brown said. 

The ad hoc committee rescheduled its meeting for Monday at 5 p.m. in room 215 of the Madison Municipal Building, 215 Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd. The recommendations will be introduced for referrals at the City Council’s meeting Tuesday. 

The committee would like to present the recommendations to the City Council and Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway separately and ahead of its complete report, which has a deadline of Sept. 3, because they have time-sensitive fiscal concerns. 

The independent monitor’s office and civilian review body would require funding, and the committee would like the proposal to be considered for the 2020 budget. Additionally, the city has an opportunity to apply to a national nonprofit research group to be included as a technical assistance site under a federal grant. 

Civilian oversight, critical review 

In a draft of the recommendation to the City Council, the committee said its reasons for recommending the major policy change are threefold: 

  • Committee members believe formalized civilian oversight is the most direct way the city can confront breaches of trust between the MPD and Madison’s diverse communities.  
  • The committee believes that the police force must be controlled by the people as much as possible in a free and democratic society. 
  • Finally, the committee sees that all other recommendations depends on establishing a civilian police review body. 

“In a free society, it’s important that the community have direct control over the law enforcement agency that the community has empowered to keep us all safe but also given extraordinary power to use force and to detain,” Findley said.

Though the group said it can not estimate the total cost of creating an independent office at this time, its members recognize the recommendation will require funding. The committee recommends that at minimum, the city hire a person to serve as a monitor and provide staff support. 

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Findley said he is optimistic that funding will be included in next year’s budget to begin efforts on a monitor’s office. 

“All the feedback I’ve gotten from the council members and the mayor is one that seems to recognize the importance of this, so I have no crystal ball but I’m optimistic and hopeful that they will act on this,” Findley said. 

In its response to the OIR report, the MPD did not oppose the recommendation to create an independent auditor but pointed out challenges such as cost and balancing credibility and independence. The city attorney’s office said it could support the recommendation, pending additional information about how the auditor and auditor’s office would function.

In a draft recommendation outlining the comprehensive internal review recommendation, the committee said analysis of critical incidents should include “non-blaming” questioning into root causes of problems. 

“Analysis of critical incidents must be robust and holistic, and systems must exist for fostering institutional learning from such incidents,” the draft recommendation said. 

The purpose of using root-cause analysis is not to blame but to enable organizations to identify opportunities for improvement, according to the committee.  

The MPD supports the general concept of a broad review process for major critical incidents and agrees with the OIR Group that implementing such a practice will be challenging. The city attorney’s office said the MPD’s Professional Standards and Internal Affairs department already conducts a comprehensive review of officer-involved shooting incidents, and the reports are reviewed by the chief of police.

Madison could apply for technical assistance from the Quattrone Center for the Fair Administration of Justice at Penn Law School under a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice. The center is a nonpartisan, national research and policy hub that researches how to prevent errors in the criminal justice system.  

“The Quattrone Center with this technical assistance grant would come in and basically help us analyze cases and set up the process with us,” Findley said. 

Staff from the Quattrone Center describe the root-cause analysis philosophy as one in which stakeholders come together to review events in a “nonpunitive manner” to “understand the true underlying causes of why events unfolded as they did and determine how they could have been avoided.” 

If accepted, Madison would be a test site for how to review critical events with a “non-blaming review” process. 

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