Amid strong criticism from the city’s chief of police, the Madison City Council approved funding for a comprehensive review of the Madison Police Department after a long, tense and confrontational discussion Tuesday night.
Alders and community members spoke passionately and emotionally into the early hours of the morning not only on the issue of funding the study but on issues of race, equity and divisiveness among the community, police department and city officials.
“It’s not about what we’re doing now, it’s about how we’re doing better next,” Ald. Larry Palm, District 12.
The resolution passed nearly unanimously with Ald. Paul Skidmore, District 9, voting against.
The resolution calls for an additional $350,000 — a significant draw from the reserves, city finance director Dave Schmiedicke said — from the city’s contingent reserve fund in addition to $50,000 originally set aside to pay for a consultant to review the police department’s policies, procedures, culture and training.
If the recommendation is approved, the 2016 contingent reserve fund balance will be $514,837.
Luis Yudice, a former MPD captain and co-chair of the MPD Police & Procedure Review ad hoc committee, said experts are expensive and to invest in a less qualified consultant would be a “waste of money” but also acknowledged difficult funding priority decisions.
“We are not blind to the competing needs of our community,” Yudice, who is also the Madison Metropolitan School District’s safety and security coordinator, said.
The independent consultant will need to have expert knowledge on community policing, law, problem-oriented policing, racial disparities, restorative justice and complicit bias, Yudice said.
These requirements contribute to the $400,000 price tag.
“This is not an expense but an investment,” Veronica Lazo, a member of the ad hoc committee, added.
Koval reiterated he is not against a comprehensive review of the police department and emphasized his concern for the fiscal impact of a $400,000 study.
“I feel like the city of Madison police department at many levels has been hijacked and co-opted by a narrative we are not subscribing to,” Koval said.
A blog post authored by the chief and published Sunday evening, which ranged in tone from sarcastic to incredulous to aggressive, incited strong reactions from City Council members, with some calling his words “divisive” and “inappropriate.” However, Koval said language he used such as “You are being watched,” was meant as a metaphor and not to be taken literally.
Throughout the city’s review process of the resolution, Koval said he has felt shut out of discussion, prompting an “adversarial” approach. He also said he refrained from taking an active role to respect the independent nature of the review.
“I sometimes believe through conflict you have a greater opportunity to explore the truth from 360 degrees,” Koval said.
‘Trust gaps’ need repair
The ad hoc committee charged with reviewing the police department's policies and procedures was created in November 2015 as a response to the local and national dialogue surrounding officer-involved shootings, including the death of Tony Robinson.
Sharon Irwin, Robinson’s maternal grandmother, spoke in favor of the police study, saying it is “imperative to know what’s going on.”
“This $400,000 is worth the money,” Irwin said. “Otherwise there’s going to be more families like mine who will be crying every day for a child who should not be dead.”
Some members of the public strongly defended the police department, speaking out against the council for the perception that it does not support the police department. Several shared personal stories of one-on-one encounters with Koval.
“I can work with this chief,” Steve Fitzsimmons, vice president of Midvale Heights Community Association, said. “I can’t work with you,” he said speaking directly to the council.
Others spoke in favor of spending $400,000 in city funding for a review of the MPD, which they say will create transparency, build trust and hold the department accountable.
Teresa Tellez-Giron, the vice chair of the Latino Children and Families Council, said transparency for the police department is necessary for the community, especially communities of color, to work collaboratively with the police.
“There continues to be trust gaps and issues we as Latinos face nationally and locally when interacting with the law enforcement,” Tellez-Giron said.
Ald. Barbara Harrington-McKinney, District 1, addressed the breach of trust many alders and community members are witnessing. While her initial vote was not to support the resolution, after hearing divided testimony she decided to support funding for the police study.
“Restoring that trust for me now calls for significant damage caused by drawing these lines in the sand,” Harrington-McKinney said. “I think we’ve all been deeply wounded by this division.”
Koval expressed the lack of support he and the department feels on behalf of the City Council, listing a series of events where alders were not in attendance.
“We are laboring in a very toxic and challenging environment, and it would be nice if from time to time we could rely on some symbolic support,” Koval said.
The ad hoc committee will make final recommendations to Mayor Paul Soglin, the City Council, the Police and Fire Commission and Koval by July 2017, with interim recommendations if necessary.