Channel 3000: "Community members will soon oversee Madison police. Here’s how it works"

September 2, 2020

Via Channel 3000

MADISON, Wis. — The City of Madison will soon begin the process of forming a Civilian Oversight Board and an independent police monitor position to help hold the Madison Police Department more accountable.

In the early hours Wednesday morning, Madison Common Council approved the two positions with 19 votes in favor. City Attorney Michael Haas said District 1 alder Barbara Harrington-McKinney abstained her vote.

Haas said now the selection process begins. The board will consist of 11 regular members and two alternatives serving four year terms. Some of the initial members would have two- or three-year terms to help establish staggered terms. Nine community organizations will each select three people to nominate for a seat on the board. Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway and Common Council members will select one nomination from each of the organizations’ submissions. The organizations that will be participating include Freedom Inc, JustDane, YWCA, Urban Triage, UNIDOS, NAACP of Dane County, Sankofa and OutReach.

Nominations are due from each of the organizations Sept. 16. The nominations will be considered by the Common Council Executive Committee on September 29. Common Council will confirm the appointments at its meeting on Oct. 6.

Haas said the board must contain a diversity in its members including that it must be 50% Black, and include people within the Asian, Latinx, Native American and LGBTQ communities. The board must also be composed of members with a range of socioeconomic status, age, gender, geographic residence in the city, work experience and lived experience with homelessness, mental health, substance us and/ or arrest or conviction record.

The board members cannot have previous work experience with the Madison Police Department or have an immediate family member involved in law enforcement.

Haas said some have asked about the legality of requiring that a certain number of members be of a certain racial background.

“Because the case law prohibiting racial quotas relates to educational and employment opportunities, we cannot conclude for certain that a court would extend similar analysis to such requirements for a Civilian Oversight Board,” Haas said. “There are several potential distinctions that can be drawn between purpose and legality of the educational and employment affirmative action programs at issue in previous cases and the purpose of ensuring a diverse police oversight board, which is to enhance overall public safety by ensuring that the Board includes representation from historically disadvantaged communities and those who have experienced interactions with MPD.”

Once the final appointments are made, members will receive training regarding police practices and procedures, use of force, mental health, confidentiality requirements, public records and open meetings.

Freedoom Inc. Director of Community Power Building Mahnker Dahnweih said the organization feels the Board is a good first step but doesn’t believe it will solve the problem it is intending to solve.

“If this board had been in place when Tony Robinson was murdered by police, it wouldn’t have made a difference. We need the ability to hire and fire police, and have the board be majority Black.”

Dahnweih said Freedom Inc. will select its nominations from its 500 active members. The organization currently helps low to no income Black and Southeast Asian survivors of domestic assault. Dahnweih said the selection will be someone who is “facing violence from police and is over represented in prisons.”

When formed, the board must meet at least quarterly and the independent police monitor would serve as the Board’s Executive Secretary. An employee from the Madison Police Department and the Office of City Attorney are required to attend all board meetings.

The board would have the authority to evaluate and investigate the independent police monitor, conduct an annual review of the acting police chief, make policy recommendations, issue subpoenas, conduct community outreach and complete an annual public report to the Mayor and Common Council containing an assessment of the performance of the monitor, the Board and MPD. The board will make recommendations for actions and would not make final decisions.

Other organizations can also submit nominations through the normal board, commission and committee membership process. According to a financial overview, annual funding for the board is $29,600, which includes board member stipends at $14,100, child care for board members during board meetings at $1,800, annual board training at $5,000, board member information technology support at $2,000 and attendance at national conferences at $6,700.

The board will also select who will serve as the independent police monitor. The individual selected will oversee MPD by investigating its compliance with internal policies and procedures, review use-of-force incidents, oversee the process of citizen complaints and ensure independent review of police operations. The monitor will also have full access to all police data and must maintain confidentiality of information unless disclosure is authorized within city guidelines and is required to execute the responsibilities of the position. The person selected for the monitor position should have a Bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, criminology, public administration, public policy, sociology or a field closely related. A full outline of the job description and responsibilities can be found here.

The ordinances related to the monitor position and the Civilian Oversight Board also state that the city must provide funding for legal costs of citizens who issue complaints to the Police and Fire Commission. The ordinance would fund the costs up to $15,000 as determined by the independent police monitor. A preliminary annual funding level of $50,000 has been set aside for this purpose. A full description of the positions can be found here.

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