With a nod from the City Council Tuesday, Madison signaled its support of pursuing civilian review mechanisms in the form of an independent monitor’s office and civilian review body.
Members of the MPD Policy Procedure & Review Ad Hoc Committee believe the civilian review mechanisms are the linchpin to implementing all other recommendations that will ultimately come from the committee.
“Fundamentally, we see this as critical because we think that implementation and effectuation of all the other recommendations, to some degree or another, depends on the independent monitor,” ad hoc committee co-chair Keith Findley said.
The council accepted a second recommendation from the ad hoc committee to develop a “robust” review process after critical incidents, such as an officer-involved shooting, that examines the incident with a “non-blaming” approach.
“We deem them both to be time-sensitive and wanted to give (the City Council) the opportunity to start working on them in a timely manner,” Findley said.
The recommendations are the first to formally come before the City Council after the ad hoc committee was formed in 2015 following the officer-involved shooting death of Tony Robinson. Robinson’s grandmother, Sharon Irwin, urged the City Council to accept the recommendations.
“This is the most important thing you can do to bring us into a place of being that is safe for all of us, including our police officers,” Irwin said. “We need to move forward and not be afraid or else another family will feel like mine.”
Though the ad hoc committee is developing a full report, it separated the two recommendations to consider first due to timing and budgetary 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.
Acceptance from the council means that the city agrees on pursuing the policies, but it does not mean the council has agreed to funding the recommendations. The next step will be to draft legislative language and secure funding for implementation.
“This gives direction to staff and the city that this is the way we want to go,” City Attorney Mike May said.
Alds. Barbara Harrington-McKinney, District 1, and Paul Skidmore, District 9, abstained from voting. They both expressed a need to see the report in its entirety before making any decisions.
“We have not seen the report as a whole and that still is troubling to me,” Harrington-McKinney said.
Skidmore expressed concern about the recommendations possibly detracting from the police department's budget.
Ald. Sheri Carter, District 14, voted against accepting the recommendations for similar reasons. Given the city is facing a budget gap, she would like to evaluate all the recommendations before signaling support of individual recommendations.
“Although the committee has deemed these two recommendations as the most important, as a policymaker, I need to look at all the recommendations and see really what fits the city and what doesn’t,” Carter said.
Years in the making
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 lead the effort.
The OIR Group’s full report was released in December 2017. The consultants found that the department can be “unusually progressive, effective, and ‘ahead of the curve’ in some areas but that the past few years have highlighted difficult relationships between 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 full report is due Sept. 3 and will contain about 200 recommendations.
However, it is likely the committee will need until the end of September to finalize it.
“We’re ready to be done, and we’re working hard to get it to you as absolutely as fast as we can,” Findley said.
The committee recommends implementing an independent monitor’s position that would have the capacity to examine policies, patterns and practices and promote long-term systemic changes on an ongoing basis.
This position would be responsible to a civilian oversight body, which would need to represent the community in all aspects. The oversight body would provide input to elected leaders, conduct an annual review of the chief of police and make policy recommendations, among other responsibilities.
The committee believes civilian review mechanisms will bridge trust gaps between the police and Madison’s communities. The recommendation states that formal civilian oversight is the most “direct way the city can confront this challenge.”
Additionally, the committee believes that the police force must be controlled by the people as much as possible in a free and democratic society.
Shadayra Kilfoy-Flores spoke to why she views the community accountability over law enforcement is important.
“Because of the current situation that we’re facing with police departments, with police brutality, with the unjustified overuse of deadly force in this country, we need to have accountability. We need to have a way to hold our officers accountable,” Kilfoy-Flores said. “We need to have a way for the community to be more involved in that accountability.”
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.
Though there is no fiscal estimate at this time, the committee recommends that at minimum, the city hire a person to serve as a monitor and provide staff support. Findley said the civilian review mechanisms should take priority to other measures that have an effect on the budget.
“If we were to do one thing with fiscal implications, this is the one,” Findley said.
Currently, there are internal and external investigations when a critical incident occurs to determine if the police officers involved followed the law and MPD policies. But the committee said more is needed to minimize future incidents.
Analysis of critical incidents must be robust and holistic, and systems must exist for fostering institutional learning from such incidents,” the recommendation states.
Madison has the opportunity to 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 to set up a review process. The center is a nonpartisan, national research and policy hub that researches how to prevent errors in the criminal justice system.
If accepted, Madison would be a test site for how to review critical events with a “non-blaming review” process. The program is currently accepting applications.
“They’re considering jurisdictions to work with right now, and at some point they’re going to exceed capacity,” 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 occurred and how they could be avoided.
In a draft recommendation outlining the comprehensive internal review proposal, the committee 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.