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Civilian oversight board over Madison police moves forward; police monitor position delayed
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Civilian oversight board over Madison police moves forward; police monitor position delayed

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John Nolen Drive shut down

Protesters walk from John Nolen Drive to the Madison police station carrying a "Community control over police" sign June 1. Two measures that would give the Madison community more control over the police were taken up Tuesday. 

A motion to create a civilian oversight board to keep Madison police accountable cleared a major hurdle Tuesday, but the creation of an independent police monitor was delayed after backlash from community members who said the monitor was not given enough power.

Madison’s Finance Committee recommended that the City Council approve the creation of the independent Civilian Oversight Board to oversee the Madison Police Department at the council’s meeting on Tuesday . If the resolution is adopted, the board would be created no later than Oct. 6.

The Finance Committee delayed the development of an independent police monitor — a position meant to work in tandem with the board — until its first meeting in July. The committee’s first scheduled meeting next month is July 20, but committee members said they intend to hold a special meeting earlier so the City Council can create the position at its July 14 or July 21 meeting.

Both measures were fundamental recommendations of the Madison Police Department Policy and Procedure Review Ad Hoc Committee, a community group that spent more than four years studying the police department’s policies and creating a report of 177 recommended changes.

The delay was initially met with frustration from some committee members, given the urgent calls from protesters for community power over the Madison Police Department.

Mayor Sayta Rhodes-Conway said the city isn’t working fast enough to make changes to its police department. She urged committee members to fix the problems with the police monitor proposal and move the resolution forward Tuesday night.

“I stood down there on John Nolen with the protesters,” Rhodes-Conway said, “and listened to a young man who looked me in the eye and said, ‘Don’t come to me telling me what you’re going to do, or what you’ve been talking about doing, or what you’re working on doing. Come to me and tell me what you’ve done.’”

Rhodes-Conway

Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway listens to protesters speak during the June 1 shut down of John Nolen Drive.

Sparked by the May 25 death of George Floyd involving police in Minneapolis, protesters in Madison since May 30 have been filling city streets, shutting down highways, organizing barbecues, chanting outside of the homes of local officials and marching by the thousands. One frequent demand of protesters: community control over police.

Police monitor debated

While the monitor position would grant some of that control, some Finance Committee members said they did not want to rush into creating the position, especially when community leaders who have been working on reforming the city’s police department for years were not in support.

Ald. Grant Foster, 15th District, said he appreciates the urgency, but that’s no excuse to move something forward that’s “not fully baked.”

Nathan Royko Maurer, who does not live in Madison but works in the city, said the resolution “eviscerated” the most important parts of the police monitor position, giving whoever fills the position “no independence” and “no power.” Gregory Gelembiuk, who was a member of the Ad Hoc Committee, supported delay so the position could be better aligned with what the Ad Hoc Committee had initially recommended.

Much of the controversy stemmed over language in the resolution that would station the police auditor within the mayor’s office and preclude the monitor from having the power to subpoena the police department.

Rhodes-Conway said she would be happy to have the monitor work under the umbrella of a different department of the city, or create a new department. But she said subpoena power should lie with the oversight board.

“You don’t vest subpoena power into a person; you vest it into a body,” Rhodes-Conway said, noting that’s what city ordinances recommend.

Council to consider board

Despite calls from Rhodes-Conway to move the police monitor measure forward Tuesday, Finance Committee members said they wanted more time to hear input from the community and draft a resolution that had broader support.

Some members balked at a suggestion to delay until August, and the committee ultimately voted unanimously for delaying until July.

If the oversight board is approved Tuesday, three City Council members — Alds. Shiva Bidar, Rebecca Kemble and Donna Moreland — will begin working on drafting ordinances to establish the board, identifying budget needs, selecting community organizations that will nominate some board members and developing a process for recruiting other members.

That work would be completed by Aug. 4, the resolution states.

[Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct information about Nathan Royko Maurer. Royko Maurer works in Madison but does not live in the city.]

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