Community policing, youth engagement among priorities for 4 MPD chief finalists

MADISON, Wis. — On Wednesday the Madison Police and Fire Commission will hearing from the community about their four candidates for the chief job.

The group posted the full interviews they had with the finalists – where they asked each one the same six questions on immigration enforcement, working with scared communities and policing mental health crises, among others.

There’s a lot the candidates have in common. They all see Madison as a national leader in policing, and they want to be part of that. None support using the department to enforce federal immigration law; all of them want to connect and build trust in the community – especially with kids; and they all bring experience testing community-based policing in cities across the country and lowering crime rates by doing so.

Shon Barnes

Shon Barnes is currently the Director of Training and Professional Development for the Civilian Office of Police Accountability in Chicago. He also served as the Deputy Chief in Salisbury, North Carolina, where during his tenure crime went to a 20-year low, he said.

To reduce crime in Madison, he said his strategy is analysis of crime, accountability and problem solving.

“We use technology to determine where crime is occurring, to determine what type of crimes are occurring, and to determine what is really driving that type of crime,” he said during his interview. “We then create strategies based on looking at crime as a problem, and not as people.”

Ramon Batista

Ramon Batista most recently served as the chief in Mesa, AZ, and before that as the chief of the investigations and patrol bureaus in the Tucson Police Department. Batista is of Latin decent, and he can speak, read and write Spanish. During his time in policing he has worked in departments that utilize a co-response method, which rely on other organizations for some calls, such as those related to mental illness and drug addiction.

To lower crime in Madison, he said he wanted to take a holistic approach.

“We aren’t going to be able to do it alone,” he told the PFC. “I will continue to expand on those public-private partnerships in and around Madison in order to help us identify and bring to bear the resources that help us reduce crime and maintain a level of safety and community enjoyment that everybody can enjoy.”

Christopher Davis

Christopher Davis is the Deputy Chief for the Portland Police Bureau. During his interview, Davis said he takes the approach of community policing, and he saw during his time in Portland the positive effect it can have when officers take time to bond with kids outside of police interactions. He said school resource officers, if districts have them, should not be used to supplement punishment.

Davis said to reduce crime he would work with the community.

“I think the right way to address crime issues and to reduce crime, because it does work and it has a lot less collateral damage than the sort of traditional police approach, is to engage the community and defining the problem in the first place, and then coming together to develop a solution to that problem that everybody can be on board with,” he said.

Larry Scirotto

Larry Scirotto retired from the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police after working there for 23 years. During his interview he talked about the importance of building trust in the community, especially with kids. He also said he supports a co-responder model, saying it is unfair to both sides of the interaction for police to respond to events that they are “ill-prepared” to handle, such as those involving mental health crises.

During his time in Pittsburgh, Scirotto oversaw programs that utilized relationships with the judiciary and area nonprofits to help violent offenders change their behaviors, which he said resulted in a 47% drop in violent crime over five years.

“We were giving those individuals, that small group of individuals engaged in violent crime, an opportunity to leave that world,” he told the commission. “The option shouldn’t have been and wasn’t to be go to jail or end up dead. The opportunity was to do something productive with your life and we’re going to help you get there.”

The Madison Police and Fire Commission is also scheduled to accept public comment on the future chief at its meeting on Monday.