By Charlie Hildebrand
A long summer of protests, marches and arrests has left many Madison residents calling for lasting change in how the police department is allowed to operate within the community. However, efforts to hold the Madison Police Department more publicly accountable have long been in the works.
The decision to create the Police Civilian Oversight Board and the Independent Police Monitor is the result of years of concern over MPD’s actions. The idea of an oversight board came as a recommendation from an Office of Research Integrity report in 2015, which was commissioned in response to Tony Robinson’s death at the hands of officer Matt Kenny. Madison residents have taken a new interest in the proposed Independent Police Monitor and Oversight Boards as a result of the MPD’s recent use of tear gas and other chemical ammunition at protests in the downtown area.
This past Wednesday, on Aug. 26, the Public Safety Review Committee passed the Alder Work Group’s ordinance to establish the Office of the Independent Police Monitor and the Police Civilian Oversight Board. The office and board would serve to oversee the actions of the police department as well as monitor future misconduct within the MPD.
“If the police show up in riot gear at peaceful protests, how do you expect people to react?” Matthew Mitnick says.
Mitnick, a UW-Madison student and former candidate for the Madison City Council, is a current member of the Madison Public Safety Review Committee. He has been working since June to progress the two proposed entities and has additionally read all the relevant materials and documents associated with them.
According to Mitnick, the Police Civilian Oversight Board would have full access to police data to examine patterns in police conduct, listen to complaints and review incidents. The efforts of the board members can result in disciplinary actions as well as policy changes.
The Police Civilian Oversight Board is made up of 11 members, and a majority of the meetings would last 4-5 hours. This time commitment can prove to be a deterrent for community members who have jobs and families. Because of this, members will receive stipends as well as child care.
“This is innovative and progressive for a city committee to do this. The meeting lengths are a barrier for people to take time off of their job and away from their families. These members are provided with extra benefits, and ultimately it will help bring people who aren’t from privileged backgrounds,” Mitnick explains.
The Public Safety Review Committee also voted for the Office of the Independent Police Monitor. The main position of this office is the independent monitor, who would also serve as the executive assistant for the board. The independent monitor position was created with an unbiased perspective in mind—whoever takes the role as the monitor will have no ties to the MPD.
In an effort to diversify the office, nine social justice organizations, such as Freedom Inc. and Urban Triage, will be responsible for recommending members.
“As a white male student, I will have a different experience with the police,” Mitnick says. “That is the point of the board finding marginalized community members.”
Mitnick also stated that the independent monitor will be supported by data analysts who look over MPD data and compile reports on it. The office administrator will outline the complaint intake process. A three member subcommittee would meet once a month to provide feedback to the independent monitor regarding the progress that the committee is making. Additionally, this subcommittee is responsible for compiling an agenda for the board docket.
The Office of the Independent Police Monitor is an independent organization, thus it doesn’t report to the MPD. Despite this, it still has substantial authority. The police monitor can issue subpoenas if a situation needs more research and attention.
Although Mitnick remains optimistic about establishing these positions, he still has concerns about them being passed.
“Alders should realize that it is needed to create accountability. In fact, everybody wants it,” he states. “Nobody registered against them and over 400 people were for it.”
When all is said and done, Mitnick hopes that establishing the Office of the Independent Police Monitor and the Police Civilian Oversight Board will help bring about meaningful change as well as transparency to the city’s relationship with law enforcement.
“The board brings back democracy into local government ... ultimately, it will help create accountability and control over community policing,” Mitnick says.
The Madison Common Council will vote on the ordinances this Tuesday. The meeting can be viewed virtually through the city’s website.