Madison Police and Fire Commission selects Dr. Shon Barnes as next police chief on split vote

MADISON, Wis. — The Madison Police and Fire Commission voted to offer Dr. Shon Barnes the job of police chief on a 3-2 vote Friday afternoon.

The decision came after the PFC heard about an hour of public comment on the finalists for the police chief position, and spent about 90 minutes in deliberation during closed session. The meeting was the third scheduled by the PFC since conducting their final interviews with candidates last week.

PFC commissioner Kevin Gundlach said his top candidate was Ramon Batista, along with Commissioner Fabiola Hamdam, both of whom voted nay on the motion to select Dr. Barnes.

The Black Leadership Council, Community Response Team, Urban Triage, members of the Civilian Oversight Board, and other community leadership organizations had previously expressed their support for Ramon Batista, who resigned as police chief from the Mesa Police Department after severe opposition from the police union to Batista’s attempts to bring reforms to the department.

“This was a unique opportunity for Madison to select a police chief who had stood up to powerful police unions in the past,” the Community Response Team said in a statement Saturday. “The members of the PFC and the groups and individuals who failed to endorse Batista just demonstrated that they will partake in every ethical police officers worst fear: the destruction of their career should they speak up and hold their fellow officers accountable for excessive force.”

Dr. Shon Barnes is currently the Director of Training and Professional Development for the Civilian Office of Police Accountability in Chicago, where he started earlier this year. He began his career as a patrol officer in 2000 at a department in Greensboro, North Carolina and moved up through the ranks to captain; he then served as deputy chief from 2017 to 2020 with the Salisbury Police Department. Barnes is a nationally recognized leader in crime reduction and community-police relations, according to an earlier press release from the city of Madison.

Members of the public speaking during Friday’s meeting expressed concerns about Dr. Shon Barne’s background, saying he had a background in predictive policing.

Ananda Deacon, a member of the recently appointed oversight board, again brought a request to the PFC that they delay their selection until the oversight board was able to send formal recommendations to the PFC. Both Deacon and other members of the oversight board have expressed their support for Ramon Batista. In a call later with News 3 Now, another member of the board, Ankita Bharadwaj, expressed further disappointment that the PFC had overlooked the community’s choice.

“The PFC chose a safe choice and did not listen to the community, and tokenized someone from a minority,” she said.

In Friday’s meeting and two other meetings before it, most members of the public participating backed Batista as their choice. “He has gone places few chiefs will go,” Amelia Royko Maurer of the Community Response Team said of Batista in Friday’s meeting. “Please choose Batista; he’s bringing a lot of people together across this community.”

In a call later with News 3 Now, Maurer expressed disappointment at the selection, saying this was a unique opportunity for Madison to select a police chief who had stood up to powerful unions in the past. Batista was sent a vote of no confidence from the Mesa police union after introducing reforms at the department following a string of violence and shootings, as well as outside investigators to review use of force incidents.

“Batista was one in a handful of chiefs,” Maurer said. “This was a once in a lifetime opportunity. He was one of a handful of chiefs who had risked mafia-style retaliation from police unions across the country.”

Greg Jones from the Dane County Branch of the NAACP said during public comment that all candidates should have been reviewed for their history in current policy guidelines affecting the use of force and racial profiling.

“You, the board…should identify the best candidate regardless of policy, politics, and any pressure that you are under,” Jones said. “So do your job.”

The process of hiring Madison’s next police chief after former chief Mike Koval’s abrupt resignation more than a year ago in September, 2019 has been an intensive process throughout a year that’s put law enforcement under fresh scrutiny in the wake of high profile police shootings and resulting civil protests. The hiring process has included months of community feedback to the PFC, including multiple meetings and working with the Local Voices Network (LVN) for surveys, small group outreach, and more. Final interviews with the candidates were conducted in closed session and later released to the public, prompting calls from the community for more direct involvement in the process.

In a statement from PFC attorney Jenna Rousseau, the commission said the decision came after a rigorous and comprehensive process.

“This process was thoughtful and deliberate. The PFC believes the process was fair,” the statement said.

In a statement sent to News 3 Now, Madison Professional Police Officers Association President Kelly Powers said the union had confidence in the PFC’s decision and looked forward to working with Dr. Barnes as chief.

Listen to the city’s final interview with Dr. Shon Barnes on December 8 here: