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Madison Police Department Needs More Outside Oversight, Committee Says

Reformers Release Long List Of Recommendations To Improve Policing, Build Community Trust

Madison Police Department car
Michelle Johnson/WPR

After nearly four years, a police policy review committee has recommended 177 changes to the way the Madison Police Department functions.

The volunteer committee was formed in 2015 following the death of Tony Robinson, an unarmed black teenager who was shot and killed by a Madison police officer.

The committee released its recommendations last Friday, calling for wide-ranging changes at the local and state levels. They focus on improving the department’s communication with the public and increasing transparency.

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The centerpiece of the recommendations is a new city job: independent police monitor.

The monitor would investigate misconduct and respond to a Civilian Review Board, made up of a diverse cross-section of Madison residents.

“We’re not asked for our own job evaluations, right?” said Matthew Braunginn, a committee member and longtime policing activist. “What’s ended up happening, is on the most part, outside of disciplinary proceedings, MPD has effectively been left to evaluate itself.”

Braunginn pointed to MPD’s current practice of asking other police departments to investigate possible misconduct within the department. A recent example was the University of Wisconsin-Madison Police Department’s investigation of an incident in June when an MPD officer used force against a teenager undergoing a mental health crisis.

Braunginn said investigations aren’t truly independent if they’re conducted by other police officers. A monitor would be more impartial and keep the mission of the committee alive.

“Our main objective with the independent monitor was a constant evaluation and re-evaluation of Madison police policies and procedures,” he said.

Madison Common Council President Shiva Bidar said Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway has already put aside money in her proposed budget to fund the independent monitor position.

“I certainly am going to be somebody that’s going to work on making sure that recommendation gets implemented,” Bidar said.

Other recommendations in the committee’s report include providing workers’ compensation for officers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and requiring a review of every use of force incident. Many of the proposed changes repeat or build on a 2017 report from OIR Group, a California police oversight and review firm, that evaluated MPD — including the idea of creating an independent police monitor.

The police department is already working on some of the recommendations, and others still have to be approved and implemented by the city, Bidar said.

One of the committee’s stated goals is to build trust between the police department and the community — especially people of color.

But none of it is a blanket fix, said Braunginn.

“It’s limited in scope,” he said. “Just Madison police policy and procedure. And a lot of the racial disparities that we see, even within the judicial system, don’t begin or end there.”