The Cap Times: Madison City Council approves 'milestone' police oversight measures

September 2, 2020

The City Council's near unanimous votes early Wednesday morning on civilian oversight measures followed five years of a resident-led city Madison Police Department Policy & Procedure Review Ad Hoc Committee studying the MPD’s policies, practices and procedures and weighing input from community members and experts.

Madison City Council approves 'milestone' police oversight measures

By: Abigail Becker – September 2, 2020

With community members urging action, the City Council supported creating Madison's first independent monitor and civilian review board to bring greater community accountability over the police department.

The council’s near unanimous votes early Wednesday morning follow five years of a resident-led city Madison Police Department Policy & Procedure Review Ad Hoc Committee studying the MPD’s policies, practices and procedures and weighing input from community members and experts.

Tom Brown, an ad hoc committee co-chair, encouraged the council to think about affecting change for the entire community.

“Making the wrong decision tonight will bring about continued unrest and mistrust in our already separated and weary community,” Brown said.

Though some alders offered amendments, such as removing stipends for board members, the adopted proposals ultimately stayed true to the work of the ad hoc committee and the three-member alder workgroup that oversaw the logistics of crafting the resolutions and ordinances overseeing the mechanisms.

The City Council ultimately acted to:

1.  Adopt the final report of a three-member alder workgroup that developed logistics and operational details for the independent monitor and civilian review board. Alds. Paul Skidmore, District 9, voted against the report and Ald. Barbara Harrington-McKinney, District 1, abstained from voting.  

2. Create an ordinance that establishes the office of the independent monitor, the monitor position and the 13-member police civilian oversight board. Harrington-McKinney abstained from voting.

3. Add the new position of independent police monitor in a category that comes with an estimated annual salary of $125,000. This passed unanimously.

4. Amend the 2020 operating budget, which includes $200,000 for a police auditor, to create the office and position of independent police monitor, provide funding for the oversight board and establish finding support for individuals bringing complaints before the Police and Fire Commission. Harrington-McKinney and Skidmore abstained from voting.
The resolution also states that it’s the City Council’s intent to include at least $482,000 in the 2021 operating budget for annual costs associated with these purposes.
In a statement following the votes, Mayor Satya Rhodes Conway called the adoption of the civilian oversight proposals a "milestone," noting Madison will join 166 oversight bodies across the nation.

"I hope this long-awaited effort will result in the transparency the community demands, as well as contribute to greater community confidence and trust in our police department," Rhodes-Conway said.

Ald. Samba Baldeh, District 17, noted the historic nature of the council’s vote, saying that the measures are needed not only in Madison but across the country.

“All law enforcement agencies that interact with communities of color also need this,” Baldeh said.

Independent monitor 

The recommendations to create an independent auditor and civilian oversight board are the result of studies conducted by the OIR Group, a California-based consulting team, and the city’s ad hoc committee.

These reports noted that Madison has a historically progressive police department and positive national reputation, however, building trust “is one of the great challenges facing the MPD,” according to the ad hoc committee’s 2019 report.

The independent auditor will have the capacity to examine policies, patterns and practices and promote long-term systemic changes on an ongoing basis. This position, which comes with a $125,000 salary, would have the power to access MPD records, issue subpoenas, develop reports and recommendations, and conduct investigations.

However, the PFC retains statutory authority to hire, fire and discipline, though the monitor can make recommendations to the commission. Skidmore, a critic of the proposals, was grateful the independent monitor “is not going to have the last word.”

The auditor could also appoint legal counsel to provide representation to those pursuing complaints against MPD personnel with the PFC. City Attorney Michael Haas said in an Aug. 21 memo that if the monitor assists in acquiring legal counsel for someone to appear before the PFC, the attorney could file a lawsuit against the city, "resulting in the city effectively paying an attorney in preparing to sue the city."

However, Keith Findley, the ad hoc committee’s second co-chair, said this provision would allow people to access the complicated PFC process.

“We’re not appointing counsel to represent people to sue the city,” Findley said.

Civilian review board

The auditor will report to a 13-member civilian oversight board, which will hire the monitor, conduct an annual review of the police chief and make policy recommendations to police, among other responsibilities.

Board members will receive a $100 per month stipend, with members of the board’s executive committee receiving an additional $25 per month. Child care will also be provided during board meetings for members who need it, per the resolution.

Board members will be chosen by nine community organizations, including local nonprofit Urban Triage. Each organization will submit three candidates, with the mayor and City Council choosing nine from the group. The mayor and City Council will also each choose two members.

Noting the historic global movement for Black lives, Brandi Grayson, CEO and founder of Urban Triage, called on alders to “do what’s right in the lives of Black people as they’re alive.” Grayson said the civilian oversight measures are a step toward justice.

“This could move us to a place where you are actually standing up as an elected governing body to say that we support the lives of Black people,” Grayson said.

MPD personnel and immediate family members of current or former MPD employees would be restricted from board membership. Also, board members cannot have Wisconsin law enforcement experience in the 10 years prior to joining the board. 

Though some criticized excluding police officers , Findley said the board’s priority is to build a bridge between marginalized communities and the MPD.

“This restriction is not based on some assessment that MPD personnel are bad people or in some attempt to stack the board in an unfair way,” Findley said. “Rather, it’s an appropriate measure to make sure the oversight board is not captured by the very agency it’s designed to oversee.”

Next, City Council staff will issue and distribute a call Wednesday for applications and nominations to the civilian oversight board with a deadline of Sept. 16. A confirmation vote is expected at the City Council’s Oct. 6 meeting.

Brian Corr, of the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement, pledged to assist the city as it enacts the monitor and board.

“It’s a process,” Corr said. “Change can't wait and sustainable change takes time.”

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