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Madison Police Department ad hoc committee

Madison police secure the area where an officer fatally shot Michael Schumacher, a mentally ill man who had broken into a home on the city's Near East Side in 2016. The shooting was one of several between 2012 and 2016 that prompted the City Council to appoint an ad hoc committee to review police practices.

The recommendation by a resident-led committee for an independent monitor of the Madison Police Department is prompting a debate about oversight of a force that has long prided itself on progressive practices.

The call for an outside monitor is among 177 recommendations released on Friday after four years of review by the Madison Police Department Policy and Procedure Ad Hoc Committee.

Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway has signaled support for the independent monitor’s position, setting aside $200,000 in her proposed 2020 operating budget for the position.

But Ald. Paul Skidmore, 9th District, said Saturday that appointing an independent police monitor would send a clear message of distrust to the Police Department.

Skidmore also characterized the push for greater citizen oversight of the department as “identity politics masquerading as social justice.”

“What the mayor and certain (City Council members) and groups like Freedom, Inc. are saying is that they’re going to excuse people from their illegal or bad behavior because of their race, gender, sexual orientation or fill-in-the-blank,” Skidmore said. “That is contrary to law, and the Police Department is following the law, the constitution, and protocol.”

Under the committee’s recommendation, the monitor would report to a civilian police review body and consider whether to appoint an outside investigator when the Police Department receives a complaint about the chief of police or another high-ranking department official.

“We saw the independent monitor’s office being so critical, so central to the success of the entire enterprise,” said Keith Findley, chair of the committee.

The Ad Hoc Committee was formed in response to several high-profile shootings between 2012 and 2016, including the officer-involved shooting death of Tony Robinson in March 2015.

Many of the committee’s recommendations aim to increase transparency and civilian oversight of the Police Department. Though the committee’s report lauds many of the department’s policies, it states that in some cases officers have strayed from progressive principles.

“A number of serious use-of-force incidents in recent years, as well as conflicts with community members and racial disparities, have created concerns among residents and a breakdown of trust in the MPD in some of Madison’s communities,” the report says.

Findley said committee members were mindful of the “very good work the police department does” and did not intend the report to be an indictment of the Police Department.

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“This is not an attempt to bash the Police Department or to say the department is in crisis,” he said. “It has a long history of doing some things very, very well. What it is instead is a report that recognizes that this department faces some challenges in terms of its effectiveness and its relationship with some of Madison’s communities.”

Skidmore, one of the most outspoken advocates for the Police Department on the City Council, co-authored an amendment with the council’s vice president, Ald. Barbara Harrington-McKinney, 1st District, that would eliminate the independent auditor position from the mayor’s budget.

He contends that the council hasn’t had enough time to review the lengthy report, especially during the height of budget season. “It’s being jammed down our throats,” Skidmore said.

In the bigger picture, Skidmore said, the committee’s work is redundant because the Police Department is already implementing recommendations from a report compiled by California-based consultants the OIR Group, which the Ad Hoc group was tasked with reviewing.

“The OIR report concluded that we have a great department,” Skidmore said. “It’s well run, it’s very diverse, it does a lot of things right. It is far from a program in trouble. There are no screaming problems.”

In a statement on his blog, recently appointed Interim Police Chief Vic Wahl said the department is beginning to digest the committee’s report, and that changes are ongoing.

“The department has already implemented a significant number of changes in response to the OIR Report, and additional changes are in progress,” he said.

Greg Gelembiuk, a vocal critic of the Police Department who was appointed to the Ad Hoc Committee by the mayor in July, said other major recommendations in the report include a policy of “holistically reviewing critical incidents, including root cause analysis,” establishing a mobile mental health response team to de-escalate crises, adopting an early intervention system to help identify officers most at risk of being involved in a shooting, and seeking greater community input when hiring a new police chief.

“We’re calling for much more community engagement than has occurred in the past,” Gelembiuk said. “You have a lot of rhetoric around community policing, but this report is calling for something much more substantive.”

Some recommendations support the status quo. For example, the report highlights “Unpaid Ticket Resolution Days,” which offer a way to resolve tickets for people who can’t pay them. The program shows the Police Department’s “willingness to assist the community and work collaboratively to address issues that lead to systemic inequity,” the report says.

Findley said the recommendations offer a path forward for “making the department stronger, improving police-community relations and minimizing undesirable outcomes as much as possible.”

The Finance Committee will vote on proposed amendments to the mayor’s budget on Monday, and the City Council will deliberate the budget next month.

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