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Recruits practice handcuffing each other during a session in defensive tactics room at the Madison Police Academy in October.


After seven months of presentations on policing issues, a Madison City Council work group is recommending 13 short-term policy changes to improve the relationship between the police department and the community.

The group, formed after an officer-involved shooting in July 2016, made draft recommendations across broad areas of mental health, use of force and officer well being in addition to suggesting changes to the Madison Police Department’s standard operating procedures.

“As an elected representative, I learned a lot of good information, and it helped me have a better understanding of the how, why, goals and philosophies (of the MPD),” Ald. Shiva Bidar, District 5, and subcommittee vice chair, said.

However, the city attorney’s office said asking for specific language in MPD standard operating procedures is not within the council’s purview because the chief of police establishes the day-to-day function and operation of the department, according to a memo from Assistant City Attorney Marci Paulsen.

Specific language changes from the group included updating the MPD’s use of force and deadly force guidelines to specifically include the “duty to intercede and de-escalate” and language that specifies the “primary duty of all MPD officers is to protect human life.”

A third direct change that would not be permissible for the council to order, according to the city attorney’s office, would be to incorporate principles of de-escalation and “judicious” use of force into a comprehensive backup policy.

Madison Police Chief Mike Koval responded to the recommendations in a memo Friday in which he described the compulsory language as troubling.

“I feel that it is unwise for the Common Council to attempt to direct police operations as contemplated in the Subcommittee’s recommendations,” Koval said, as doing so could open the MPD to political influence.

Koval also said the recommendations are duplicative of work the MPD is already doing. For example, the department instituted a de-escalation standard operating procedure in November 2016.

“The Subcommittee recommendations generally reflect issues already addressed by MPD in existing (standard operating procedures), training, operations or planning,” Koval said.

Bidar said even if the MPD is already operating in a way that falls in line with the recommendations, that's not clear to the community.

“Language and clarity go a long way in creating good community and understanding among the community and their expectations of their police department,” Bidar said.

While the City Council cannot cross the chief’s authority on daily operations, it can direct the MPD to issue a general order for the department to create a new standard operating procedure that leaves the details up to the chief.

One of those recommendations is for the MPD to issue guidelines on how to deal with an “emotionally disturbed person." The work group defined an EDP as someone who appears to be mentally ill and acting in a way that an officer reasonably believes could result in injury. Intoxicated individuals are included in this category.

While the MPD does have a standard operating procedure on mental health incidents and crises, the work group argues that it does not include specific tactics to de-escalating a situation. Of Madison’s officer-involved shootings, several have involved individuals who have had a mental health issue or been intoxicated, which influenced the group’s recommendation.

The group also recommends the ad hoc committee provide a review of the feasibility of external oversight into police investigations. Traditionally, police departments handle investigations internally, though by law, officer-involved deaths are investigated independently.

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“Given the public interest surrounding policing and the public’s frequent demand for independent investigations into misconduct, a policy which directs an external investigator to investigate certain complaints may enhance community trust,” the report states.

Other recommendations include:

  • Directing the MPD to develop programming for officers to build “mental health and resilience” to manage the effects of trauma police officers are exposed to.
  • Directing the chief of police to provide quarterly written and verbal updates to the City Council.
  • Developing a policy governing the purchase and use of all city surveillance equipment, including the MPD. The policy would address data management, storage and policy violation consequences.
  • Exploring the MPD’s use of an early intervention system meant to monitor officers who are often the subject citizen complaints or demonstrate behavioral issues.
  • Using a “root cause analysis” method to determine factors contributing to a critical incident.
  • Reviewing the role of the Public Safety Review Committee to include a regular examination of police and community relations.

The MPD's policies and procedures are currently being reviewed separately by the OIR Group, chosen by an ad hoc committee, after the City Council recommended funding a $400,000 study. Madison has three city police oversight committees in addition to the work group.

The work group’s priorities were to provide a forum for residents and council members to discuss police and community goals, explore models from other communities and provide information in the short-term before the OIR Group’s study is completed.

However, Koval said accomplishing the recommendations in the near future seems unlikely and the future report from OIR should be the basis for any potential MPD operational changes.

“The Subcommittee recommendations are anything but short-term,” Koval said. “Indeed, some of the recommendations — even if fully embraced by MPD and pushed forward starting today — could not be implemented before the anticipated conclusion of OIR’s work.”

The subcommittee will meet Monday at 7 p.m. in Room 201 of the City-County Building, 210 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., to finalize the draft. City committees will review the recommendations before the City Council takes up the report, likely at its May 15 meeting.

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Abigail Becker joined The Capital Times in 2016, where she primarily covers city and county government. She previously worked for the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism and the Wisconsin State Journal.