Common Council passes police oversight measures during 9-hour meeting

MADISON, Wis. — The City of Madison’s Common Council is voting to create an independent police monitor position and civilian oversight board after a meeting that lasted until the early-morning hours Wednesday.

After a series of votes that was preceded by hours of public comment, the council is approving setting up an 11-member board that will be charged with appointing the independent police monitor, conducting police assessments and making recommendations on use of force and officer discipline. However, the board will not have the authority to actually discipline or fire officers — that responsibility will still lie with the city’s Police and Fire Commission.

The independent monitor would review incidents in which force is used, oversee the processing of citizen complaints and make sure reviews of the department’s policing are independent.

The recommendations for the committee and a police monitor first came in a city committee first formed in 2015 following the shooting death of Tony Robinson in Madison.

Tuesday’s Common Council meeting started at 6:30 p.m. and adjourned at 3:40 a.m. Friday.

Following the vote, Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway’s office released the following statement:

The passage of a Police Monitor and the Civilian Oversight Board is a milestone for our City and our state. 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.

I know some people have concerns or questions about how the Monitor and Oversight Board will work. According to the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement, there are now 166 oversight bodies across the nation including in some of America’s largest cities. While this oversight mechanism is new to us in Madison, I hope it will help us communicate what we are doing well and identify where we can do better.

Under Wisconsin law, the Police and Fire Commission (PFC) is the body responsible for the discipline and termination of police officers. The Monitor and Oversight Board will have a broader mandate to review police department policies and practices and conduct investigations when necessary. They will also make recommendations to the Police Chief and the PFC, and play a key role in communicating with the public and receiving public comment and input.

Experts note that the most effective oversight bodies are the ones that establish themselves as independent, effective, and fair. Community groups now have an opportunity to put forward a strong set of candidates to serve as a foundation for a new era of transparency, cooperation and continuous improvement.​