Madison police car squad

Three years and $372,000 into an exhaustive review of the Madison Police Department, a call for the community’s input has largely resulted in 77 pages of recommendations submitted by one prominent local police critic and a form-letter campaign orchestrated by one prominent local police supporter.

And of the 22 people or groups whose input was solicited by name — including local chapters of the NAACP and Urban League, and other social justice organizations — only one has responded.

The Madison Police Department Policy and Procedure Review Ad Hoc Committee is scheduled to meet Thursday to consider the community’s feedback after spending a year plowing through the 146 recommendations in a 258-page, $372,000 consultant’s report that deemed the department “far from ‘a Department in crisis,’” and described its use of force as “limited in volume and primarily minor in nature.”

The committee has also taken up 13 policing-related “action items” penned by a City Council committee in May 2017.

Committee co-chairman Keith Findley said he wasn’t surprised at what was generated by the committee’s call for recommendations, saying the consultant’s report “was extraordinarily thoughtful and detailed.”

“We wanted to give all a chance to be heard but did not expect that most would add to what has already been a very thorough discussion,” he said.

Of the 142 pages of community input, 77 of them contain 28 recommendations submitted by police critic Greg Gelembiuk on behalf of the activist group Community Response Team (CRT). Among them are recommendations to better document why a police officer might choose to turn off a dashboard camera, tighten rules on when officers can pursue fleeing suspects on foot and encourage the city to provide opioid addiction treatment to people who are incarcerated or on community supervision.

Gelembiuk said he played “a significant role” in coming up with the recommendations and was the member of the CRT who most consistently attended the ad hoc committee’s meetings, “but numerous people originated or contributed to these.”

He has described the CRT as having about 220 members and 22 people in its “core working group” and said it “began generating potential recommendations years ago,” after the fatal police shooting in November 2012 of Paul Heenan on the city’s Near East Side.

Heenan’s death was the first of seven fatal police shootings over the course of four years. The shootings spurred activists and city officials to demand a closer look at Madison police, although none resulted in criminal charges against the officers involved or any findings that they had violated department policy in the incidents.

Madison’s insurer has paid out a total of $5.65 million in two settlements to the families of two of those killed — Heenan and Tony Robinson — without the city admitting any guilt. A jury in a federal civil rights case also found that two officers used unreasonable force in killing Ashley DiPiazza in 2014 and awarded her family $7 million in damages.

“Recommendations emerged out of listening sessions, community meetings with law enforcement panels,” discussions at the police department’s citizens academy and other places, Gelembiuk said in an email, and “people submitted additional recommendations via Facebook, on notecards, etc. We generated a long list of potential recommendations that we continued working on (both in meetings and via Google Docs) and adding to over the years.”

The packet of community recommendations the ad hoc committee will take up Thursday also includes emails from about 35 people who sent a form letter coordinated by local police supporter Paula Fitzsimmons.

The letter calls Madison police “arguably among the most finely-trained in the nation” and says they do exceptional work “despite the fact that the Department is understaffed and operating in a hostile, anti-cop environment.”

The letter’s three recommendations are to fund more police; require the mayor, City Council members and other city officials to attend the citizen’s academy and go on ride-alongs with police; and urge the mayor and City Council to “find ways to consistently and publicly support our cops.”

Of the 22 individuals or groups who were sent a Nov. 1 letter asking them for their thoughts on Madison police reform, only Democratic state Rep. Chris Taylor, of Madison, has responded.

Taylor co-sponsored a 2014 law that requires outside investigations of police shootings, and in her Dec. 12 letter to the committee included legislation she’s introduced to tighten police use-of-force guidelines and create a statewide model use-of-force policy.

She also recommends Madison police create an independent review process to handle internal complaints and strengthen its standard operating procedure on responding to sexual assault cases.

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