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Former police chief and community organizers debate best policing practices
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Former police chief and community organizers debate best policing practices

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Community members gathered to find solutions to tensions between the police force and minority residents during a panel discussion held Tuesday at UW-Madison’s Vilas Hall.

The panelists included former Madison Police Chief David Couper, as well as YGB organizer M Adams and former Dane County prosecutor Everett Mitchell.

Though the panelists agreed on the need for police reforms, they diverged on how to reach those goals.

“If you randomly select people for jury and trust them in a life decision about going to jail, then you should trust people to run the police department,” said Adams, who laid out proposals to give citizens the power to hire and fire police officers.

Couper, who pushed for more effective police training on building community relations throughout the discussion, said while he acknowledges why Adams and others want more power in department-level decisions, it is difficult to achieve.

Though MPD recruits a wide range of officers from around the Midwest, Couper said police officers “need to have some experience, have a college degree, be older and have to be willing to work closely and hands-on with the communities they work with.”

Mitchell noted that varying interpretations of lawful police practices across Dane County’s police districts causes problems for residents.

“There is no consistency in law enforcement,” Mitchell said. “When young people go from the south side of Madison to the north side or to the suburbs, there are varying interpretations on what use of force looks like.”

Adams dismissed a solution offered by Couper and Mitchell focusing on increased police training as “not fixing the root problem.”

The discussion, moderated by UW-Madison associate professor Karma Chávez, is part of the Comparative U.S. Studies initiative, which aims to bring conversations on U.S. culture to campus and the community.

“This is a great opportunity for community members as it gives them a platform to be heard,” Chávez said.

Chávez added that additional discussions on varying topics will continue throughout the fall.

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