How has policing changed in Madison since George Floyd’s death?

Madison police cruiser

MADISON, Wis. — In the year since George Floyd’s death, people across the country have called for changes to police practices and more oversight of police departments.

Madison is no different, with a number of changes coming to the city’s police department and past actions under review. Here is a look at what’s changed in Madison since May 25, 2020.

Proposals introduced to ban use of tear gas and projectile crowd-control measures

As peaceful protests gave way to unrest in downtown Madison in the days following Floyd’s death last summer, authorities were seen on video using tear gas and other projectiles in an attempt to disperse crowds, often leading to people throwing the canisters back in the direction of police. Authorities did acknowledge using chemical agents on the crowds in the early days of protests and unrest, but did hold off while largely standing back and observing protests later in the summer.

That led to the city’s common council begin discussions on banning the use of tear gas and other projectiles last July. The proposal has struggled to gain traction after those initial months.

MPD’s use of force under third-party review

Related to the use of tear gas on people gathered in downtown Madison over the summer, the Madison Police Department’s use of force those nights is the subject of an outside review by the Quattrone Center for the Fair Administration of Justice at the University of Pennsylvania’s Law School.

The Quattrone Center is reviewing hundreds of hours’ worth of video, thousands of pages of police reports and is asking for the public’s input for their viewpoints. They say the Madison Police Department has been cooperative during the process and is willing to hear recommendations on policies going forward once the report is complete.

The creation of a new Civilian Oversight Board

While the idea was being looked at in a variety of city committees for years since the 2015 police shooting of Tony Robinson, the city’s Common Council voted in September to establish an 11-member Civilian Oversight Board for the Madison Police Department and an Independent Police Monitor position that would be appointed by the Oversight Board.

The Civilian Oversight Board also has the ability to conduct police assessments and make recommendations on use of force and officer discipline, but does not have the authority to discipline or fire officers. Those responsibilities still remain with the city’s Police and Fire Commission.

“The passage of a Police Monitor and the Civilian Oversight Board is a milestone for our City and our state,” Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway said at the time. “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.”

The board elected its chair and vice chair in December.

The city has a new police chief

Dr. Shon Barnes was sworn in as the new chief of the Madison Police Department on February 1, 2021 after Vic Wahl served as interim chief following the retirement of Mike Koval in September 2019.

Barnes was named chief after a 3-2 vote by the city’s Police and Fire Commission, but was not the top choice for some members of the commission and community groups like the Black Leadership Council, the Community Response Team, Urban Triage and members of the Civilian Oversight Board. Many of those people favored Ramon Batista, who had previously resigned as chief of the Mesa Police Department after opposition from that city’s police union over his attempts to bring reforms to the department.

Barnes came to Madison after working as the Director of Training and Professional Development for the Civilian Office of Police Accountability in Chicago. City of Madison leaders highlighted Barnes’ history as a leader in crime reduction and community-police relations in announcing his hiring.

New crisis response training for officers

In Chief Barnes’ first few months, he has held new training sessions for his officers in handling mental health calls and crisis response. That includes “ICAT” — Integrating Communications, Assessment, and Tactics — training to better respond to those situations. While some have called for removing police from responding to those calls altogether, law enforcement and state officials say the mental health programs and resources aren’t there to completely cut officers out of the process, so their focus is on making sure officers know how to handle those situations with care if they are first on the scene.

The department has also undergone Crisis Intervention Partners (CIP) training to cover topics like trauma-informed care, delirium, veterans and PTSD, people hearing voices, mental illness and medication, the autism spectrum, implicit bias and de-escalation.