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The Madison Police Department is “far from ‘a Department in crisis,’ ” and its use of force “is limited in volume and primarily minor in nature,” according to a consultant hired to do a top-to-bottom review of the department in the wake of a spate of deadly police shootings over the last five years.

At the same time, police officials can be defensive when questioned about their actions and too quick to dismiss critics as “anti-police,” the OIR Group found in its 243-page report, released Thursday. The department also needs to create a strategic plan, the consultant said, and doesn’t adequately track how officers implement the department’s community-policing approach.

Among its 146 recommendations, the report says the city should hire an independent auditor to oversee the department and that the department needs to strengthen its internal investigation of officer-involved shootings. OIR also recommends the city craft a “body camera policy with input from the community prior to committing to purchasing body cameras,” but does not provide a definitive recommendation on whether the technology should be pursued.

The city’s Police Department Policy and Procedure Review Ad Hoc Committee met Thursday evening to hear from three representatives of OIR, but members provided only cursory thoughts as the dense report was received just hours before the meeting.

“We are on the eve of the next turning point in our community conversation about policing and about what community oversight of the police should look like,” City Council President Marsha Rummel wrote in an email to fellow council members before the report came out.

The lead-up

The roots of the police review lie in the 2013 Race to Equity report, which detailed disparities in income, employment, the criminal justice system and elsewhere between whites and people of color in Madison; national concern over the use of police force in black communities; and the 2015 fatal shooting of 19-year-old Tony Robinson, who was black, by a Madison police officer, according to Rummel.

“At that time, the Common Council recognized that while many residents are satisfied with MPD and proud of their progressive law enforcement legacy of community oriented policing, there is a significant sector of the community that does not trust the police,” Rummel wrote.

The officer who shot Robinson was later cleared of wrongdoing, but the city’s insurer paid a $3.35 million settlement in a civil rights case brought by Robinson’s family.

The City Council initially allocated $50,000 for the ad hoc committee’s work. But at a heated meeting in June of last year, the council added $350,000 to that after it became apparent to the committee that more money would be needed to hire a consultant.

In a blog post prior to the council approving the extra funds, Police Chief Mike Koval blasted what he saw as the council’s poor support for a generally well-regarded police department.

“The city will go into (its) financial reserve fund for $400,000 for an assessment of a department that has been recognized by the Police Executive Research Forum as a shining light of progressive community-based policing?!” he wrote.

“You are being watched,” he wrote. “And be on notice: this is a pre-emptive first strike from me to you. I am going to push back hard when MPD is constantly used as a political punching bag and you are nowhere to be found.”

In May, the City Council adopted 13 policy recommendations put together by a subcommittee of the council called the President’s Work Group on Police and Community Relations.

They included direction to police to emphasize the preservation of life in its standard operating procedures and to develop programming to promote officer mental health.

Suggested changes

One of the key areas of OIR’s recommendations involves community policing and problem-oriented policing.

While OIR lauded the department’s commitment to those policing practices, the report suggests additional data be collected on how long and how often officers use community-policing practices, such as de-escalating situations and other resolutions that don’t result in arrests.

“We think the department could do better at capturing that activity,” said Michael Gennaco, founding principal of OIR Group.

Another recommendation is to create a formal evaluation process for all department personnel, including the chief, where information on communit- policing practices could help factor into rank and promotion, Gennaco said.

M Adams, a community organizer and co-executive director of Freedom Inc., said she envisions allowing neighborhoods of people of similar races and income levels to fire officers, control police budgets and determine police priorities and policies.

“We know that the solution is community control over police,” she said.

In the case of high-profile and controversial incidents, such as officer-involved shootings, OIR is recommending the department hold listening sessions following the incident and after external and internal investigations have been completed.

“In this day and age, it’s probably not good enough to just simply have the (district attorney) decline the case and have the leadership of the department say, ‘We found the shooting met constitutional standards and policies,’ ” Gennaco said. “I think the community wants to know more and is entitled to know more.”

Ald. Maurice Cheeks, 10th District, noted the department has in the past held such listening sessions, but Gennaco said policies could be changed to make them mandatory.

As with body cameras, OIR didn’t provide a definitive recommendation on the use of Educational Resource Officers — police officers who exclusively serve Madison’s four main public high schools — which has become a contentious issue for the Madison School Board.

The report does provide suggestions for those officers, such as letting the community have broader input on who fills the roles and closely reviewing arrest and citation statistics to make sure juveniles aren’t unnecessarily being put into the criminal justice system.

What’s to follow

Ultimately, the ad hoc committee will form its own recommendations based on the OIR report and other information it has received. Those recommendations are due to the City Council by July so council members can discuss and act on potential changes.

“We don’t want to rubber stamp OIR’s report. We want to digest it, consume it, get input from the community,” said ad hoc committee co-chair Christian Albouras.

Next, the City Council and ad hoc committee will hold a joint meeting with OIR representatives on Jan. 11. The police department plans to submit a formal response to the recommendations by Jan. 31.

In a blog post Thursday before the report’s release, Koval said the department has “cooperated fully” with OIR and that “OIR has been granted unfettered access to people, products and processes.”

Sometime in February, the ad hoc committee will establish a public input process that could include videos, listening sessions and other outreach methods.

Chris Rickert is the urban affairs reporter and SOS columnist for the Wisconsin State Journal.

Logan Wroge has been a general assignment reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal since 2015.

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