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Madison City Council Calls On Town To Rescind Controversial Police Hire

Town Police Chief Says He's Not Swayed By City

Police lights
Matty Ring (CC-BY)

The city of Madison is sparring with the town of Madison in the wake of a controversial police hire.

A dozen Madison city alders penned a letter condemning the town’s decision to hire DeForest’s disgraced former police chief as a part-time officer.

Daniel Furseth was placed on administrative leave in May and resigned in August after a decade-old video surfaced in which he made racist remarks. The town of Madison hired him in October.

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The town and city are policed separately, and the latter has voiced loud opposition to the former’s choice.

“It’s unacceptable to say that person should be the law enforcement officer where the record of how black people are treated in this city, in this county, is not good,” said Samba Baldeh, president of the Madison City Council. He said as a person of color, he felt compelled to speak out.

In their letter, the city council wrote that Furseth’s “insensitivity to people of color disqualifies him to hold the position of law enforcement officer.” The decision to hire him anyway, they wrote, was especially insensitive “during a climate fraught with divisiveness and distrust of trust of law enforcement, particularly among people of color.”

But Town of Madison Police Chief Scott Gregory disregarded their missive. saying he had “no response.”

Instead, Gregory said he’s focused on listening to the town’s residents.

“I’m in contact with our community and working with our community and talking with our citizens and minority leaders as well,” Gregory said. “I’m not saying that I can’t be swayed one way or the other, but the city council and (Madison Mayor) Paul Soglin do not sway me.”

Gregory acknowledged the hire is not without concerns. Furseth is currently on probation, as all new hires are, and training with another town officer. Gregory also said they will do spot checks on Furseth’s body camera footage.

But Baldeh said the spot checks are a waste of resources, and the better alternative is to hire someone else. He also criticized the apparent incongruence between Gregory’s prior statement on behalf of the Dane County Chiefs of Police Association and actions in hiring Furseth.

In August, Gregory penned a letter saying his organization “condemns racism in any form, and will speak out against acts by our own that negatively impact our relationships with the community and undermine the efforts and progress we have made to improve trust between law enforcement and communities of color.”

In an interview this week, Gregory stood by his former statements and current decision. But to Baldeh, this hire is exactly the sort of action that will “negatively impact” community relationships and attempts to “improve trust between law enforcement and communities of color.”

Baldeh said he plans to seek a meeting with the town’s administration to explain why Furseth’s hiring is so damaging.

“I think there may be some gaps, historical gaps, where he may just be ignorant about where African-Americans are coming from in terms of law enforcement, but also the current situation between law enforcement and people of color,” Baldeh said.

If the town does not agree to the meeting, Baldeh said, he will galvanize residents across municipalities to oppose the decision.