Madison police used force against suspects in one-seventh of 1% of the calls they responded to in 2018, according to the department’s first-ever “accountability report,” released Monday.
The report is “an additional effort to be transparent with the public,” Assistant Chief Victor Wahl said. “I’d say all of the data in the report has been collected for years, but different systems/processes, and software changes now allow us to extract and analyze it more readily.”
Still, it comes as police procedures and practices have been put under the microscope by local activists and City Council members after a string of fatal police shootings beginning in 2012, including of an unarmed but combative and intoxicated black 19-year-old man in 2015.
Last year, police recorded using force in 217 of 143,359 calls, or 0.15%. Of the 324 distinct uses of force on those calls, 175 were classified as “decentralization/takedown,” or the process of pushing or pulling a person to the ground. The next most common types of force were “active counter measures,” with 73. They involve officers striking suspects with a foot, knee, hand or forearm. Some calls required more than one type of force be used.
There was one case in 2018 in which an officer fired on a suspect. On Sept. 1, an officer shot 35-year-old Scott R. Stein, of Madison, after he threatened police with a knife. He suffered injuries that were not life-threatening and was later convicted of two felonies in the case and sentenced to a year in prison.
The prevalence and kinds of force used are little changed from 2017, when force was used in 0.16% of all calls for service.
The report only concerned uses of force recorded by police and did not include instances of “pain compliance,” such as wrist locks or activating pressure points to encourage uncooperative suspects to comply. The addition of those instances would not significantly change department use-of-force statistics, according to assistant police chief Vic Wahl.
About 45% of the suspects who had force used against them were white, while about 48% were black and 5% were Hispanic. That generally corresponds with the racial makeup of those arrested by Madison police. According to the department’s most recent annual report, for 2017, 49% of those arrested were black and 47% were white. Blacks make up about 7% of the city’s population, whites about 75%.
About 77% of recorded use-of-force incidents involved white officers; they make up about 80% of the police force.
Also according to the report:
- There were 192 complaints filed against sworn police officers in 2018, with 153 of them coming from outside the department. Officers were exonerated in 120 of those cases, 30 were classified as “not sustained,” 33 were sustained and in seven of the cases, the officers involved resigned before a determination was made. A single officer can be the subject of multiple complaints.
- The number of vehicle pursuits by police dropped by more than half from 2017 to 2018, from 27 to 13. The department changed its procedures in 2015 to restrict the cases in which officers can pursue suspects in vehicles. “This has resulted in a reduction in the number of pursuits officers are involved in, and corresponding reductions in injuries and property damage resulting from vehicle pursuits,” the report says.
The officer who shot and killed 19-year-old Tony Robinson on March 6, 2015, was cleared of any criminal wrongdoing or policy violations, but the city’s insurer paid out a $3.35 million settlement to Robinson’s family in 2017, without the city admitting fault.
The city spent $372,000 on a consultant to review police policies and procedures. Its December 2017 report deemed the agency “far from ‘a Department in crisis.’”
A citizens committee has been impaneled since November 2015 to oversee the consultant’s work and review its recommendations — as well as recommendations for police from committee members and the public. It was initially expected to finish its work by July 2016 but has had its end date extended six times and is now supposed to submit its recommendations and report by June 4.
[Editor's note: This story has been updated to clarify that the report only concerned uses of force recorded by police and did not include instances of “pain compliance,” such as wrist locks or activating pressure points to encourage uncooperative suspects to comply.]