Local activists, politicians and advocacy groups were vocal three years ago in calling for more scrutiny of the Madison Police Department in the wake of a string of high-profile officer-involved confrontations, including fatal shootings and a violent videotaped arrest.
But last month, the committee charged with providing that scrutiny got no response when it asked nearly 20 members of that broad swath of influential Madisonians and others for their recommendations.
Near the end of two years of work, the Madison Police Department Policy and Procedure Review Ad Hoc Committee on Nov. 1 sent a letter to 22 individuals or groups asking them to “submit any recommendations you have regarding the Madison Police Department’s Policies and Procedures to us in writing.” Some of those who got the letter are out-of-state experts.
“Our task is to undertake a comprehensive review of the Madison Police Department and forward all recommendations we might have to the Common Council and Mayor,” the letter said.
It gave recipients until Nov. 28 to submit their recommendations. As of Wednesday, none had.
Former Madison School Board member Anna Moffit, who applauded the committee’s work, said she recalled getting the letter around Thanksgiving, but “lost track of it.”
“I will respond to it, and I have been to several of the meetings and have written (other correspondence) to the committee as well,” she said.
Paris Smith, receptionist at Monona-based Sankofa Behavioral and Community Health, said she didn’t recall the organization getting the committee’s letter.
But she told the Wisconsin State Journal that Madison police should take the racial disparities training offered by the clinic’s founder, Valerie Henderson.
“This training would be best to happen quarterly and required for the new hires,” Smith said.
The ad hoc committee began meeting in November 2015, eight months after an unarmed, intoxicated and allegedly combative Tony Robinson, 19, who was black, was shot in a narrow stairwell by officer Matt Kenny, who is white. The killing sparked protests and calls for radical change in the police department.
Robinson’s was one of seven fatal police shootings over less than four years. Officers were cleared of procedural or criminal wrongdoing in the shootings, although in July 2017, a jury found two officers used unreasonable force in the death of one of the victims, Ashley DiPiazza, and awarded her family $7 million.
In February 2017, the city’s insurer agreed to a $3.35 million settlement with Robinson’s family, without the city admitting fault. The insurer also agreed in August 2015 to a $2.3 million settlement — again without the city admitting liability — with the family of Paul Heenan, who was fatally shot by a Madison police officer in November 2012.
And the department faced heavy criticism in the wake of a bystander video of the forceful June 2016 arrest of 18-year-old Genele Laird, who is black, by two white Madison police officers. Those officers were also cleared of wrongdoing after Laird allegedly pulled a knife on an employee at East Towne Mall, then resisted arrest by kicking and spitting at officers. No charges were filed against her after she successfully completed Dane County’s restorative court program.
After boosting funding for an independent study of police from $50,000 to $400,000, the City Council on Nov. 1, 2016, hired California-based OIR Group, which delivered a largely positive, 258-page report on MPD in December 2017.
Since then, the committee has been painstakingly making its way through each of OIR’s 146 recommendations. It’s also taking up a set of 13 police-related “action items” recommended by a City Council committee in May 2017. Recommendations from the community are to form the basis for the last piece of the committee’s work before presenting a report to the City Council by Feb. 26.
Committee co-chairman Keith Findley said he couldn’t speak to why local groups and individuals haven’t submitted their own recommendations but said the committee had granted Greg Gelembiuk, a frequent police critic, “an extension of time until the end of this week to get his suggestions in on behalf of the Community Response Team.” Gelembiuk said his group is “highly active,” with about 220 members and 22 people in its “core working group.”
The committee also garnered three responses from people not on the mailing list after the committee’s leaders encouraged other committee members to reach out to residents and after the letter was given to City Council members to share with their constituents.
Jim Cortada, president of the South Madison Arbor Hills Neighborhood Association, recommended police adopt a “more effective public reporting process” so that residents have a better understanding of what police do on a day-to-day basis and why they do it.
Two other residents known locally for their vocal support of police — Dave Glomp and Paula Fitzsimmons — bemoaned low morale in the department, which they felt was the result of local and national criticism of police. Glomp recommended the department be allowed to hire more officers.
Assistant city attorney Marci Paulsen, who’s been staffing the ad hoc committee, said it is likely to consider community recommendations at its Dec. 20 meeting.