A report last month by a California-based consultant on the Madison Police Department’s policies, procedures and culture makes no definitive recommendations on two of the biggest police-related decisions facing the City Council and mayor: staffing and adoption of police body cameras.
Nor does the 245-page, $372,000 product of the OIR Group’s yearlong review address whether police practices have contributed to the wide racial disparities in the Dane County criminal justice system.
“They are making us basically answer the questions,” said Mayor Paul Soglin of the report, which described Madison police as “far from ‘a Department in crisis.’”
“We have to own it,” he said.
Whether to join a growing list of law enforcement agencies by equipping patrol officers with body cameras has been on the council’s radar since 2014. Most recently, funding for a body cameras pilot was approved in September by a council committee but stripped out of the final budget by the full council.
Amid recent jumps in gun violence, Police Chief Mike Koval has also put pressure on the council and Mayor Paul Soglin to hire more patrol officers. A department staffing study released in November 2016 suggested the city needed 13 more patrol officers and anywhere from 37 to 361 more officers overall.
Council members who removed the body-camera pilot funding from the budget did so in part because they wanted to wait for results of OIR’s report.
That report, though, wavers on whether the cameras are a good idea, depending on the creation of policies to govern the cameras’ use and the outcome of a bill in the Legislature that would restrict access to camera footage.
“Assuming a reasonable consensus can be reached on policy, Madison stakeholders should remain open to funding a body-worn camera pilot project,” is the report’s 138th recommendation.
Ald. Paul Skidmore, a member of the city’s Public Safety Review Committee and lead sponsor of the de-funded pilot program, said OIR did “acknowledge the benefits of body worn cameras and video surveillance” and that he will propose another pilot based on the firm’s recommendations.
As for staffing, OIR principal Michael Gennaco notes that the city’s request for proposals — drafted over the course of about seven months by the city’s Police Department Policy and Procedure Review Ad Hoc Committee — didn’t ask for a staffing study.
“If all agree that MPD officers should spend a significant percentage of their time practicing non-traditional policing, it requires a higher dedication of resources than the traditional policing model,” he said.
But the city doesn’t have enough data to know how much non-traditional, or problem-oriented, policing is going on, he said, and “the decision on the ‘magic number’ of MPD officers could be better informed by capturing this information rather than another staffing study comparing other police departments.”
Gennaco also pointed to a lack of data as the reason the report made no determination as to whether Madison police practices are contributing to a local criminal justice system that arrests and locks up blacks at disproportionately high rates compared to their population.
“To its credit, MPD has started collecting and publishing data” on factors that “interrelate and likely contribute to the disparity in arrests” — including socio-economic factors, education levels and implicit bias.
“We think that after two years of data are collected, such an analysis could begin and continue on a forward-going basis,” he said.
At least a quarter of OIR’s 146 recommendations are for the city or police to “consider” some new approach, “continue” an existing approach, or “modify,” “amend” or otherwise tweak something it’s already doing.
Police chief Mike Koval said the “lack of specificity in some of the findings is something that I expected.
“Given that some of the items may have a fiscal impact and/or have to be reconciled with union obligations and Wisconsin law(s), I believe that the OIR Group kept some of these issues open-ended, acknowledging the practical necessities involved,” he said in an email.
More definitive recommendations are for the city to hire an independent auditor to oversee police policy, complaints about police, use of force and other matters. The position would report to a civilian review board.
Gennaco acknowledged there “is no state law that speaks to an auditing function” but points to the Office of the Independent Monitor in Denver as one model Madison should consider.
“We would hope and expect that, in the same way that MPD provided us unfettered access to documents and personnel, that the Department would also provide the same access for the auditor to do her/his work,” he said via email. “However, should there be a need, the mayor and Common Council, pursuant to its authority to ‘issue orders’ to the chief of police, could require cooperation with the auditor.”
Skidmore took issue with the idea that an auditor would “monitor” police.
“’Monitor’ has a specific legal connotation,” he said. “Courts can appoint monitors to oversee the operations of police departments that have significant, documented problems and have entered into ‘consent decrees’ with the federal government.”
But “Madison does not have significant documented problems, they are not under scrutiny for significant violations and they do not have any consent decrees,” he said.
The co-chairman of the city’s Ad Hoc Committee, Luis Yudice, said Wednesday it would be “inappropriate to make any personal statements about the pros and cons of the report.”
He said the committee will have a joint meeting with the council and OIR on Jan. 11. The police department’s formal response to the report is due Jan. 31, and the committee is expected to begin diving more deeply into the report in February.
“This is a big deal,” he said. “We spent a lot of money on this report. We want to make sure we can get as much feedback as we can,” including from the community.