Police and Fire Commission hears update from police on protests, picks up on chief selection process

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MADISON, Wis. – As protests continue for a tenth day downtown, local leaders are discussing the future of policing in Madison.

The city’s Police and Fire Commission met virtually Monday evening, hearing an update from Interim Police Chief Vic Wahl on the past week before discussing steps on choosing his permanent replacement.

“I think it’s a challenging time,” Wahl said. “It’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen in 29 years.”

Wahl said the unrest eclipses what he’s seen in the past, including State St. Halloween riots in the early 2000s.

In the first two nights of protest, Wahl reported 18 officers were injured, some getting concussions from strikes to the head, even with protective gear. He said he was aware of one civilian reporting being hurt by police.

He answered questions from the commission, including how the department is trying to bridge the gap with protesters.

“The challenge we’ve seen over the past week is there isn’t just one group organizing things,” Wahl said. “There’s a lot of different groups — some we’ve had success with in terms of communicating.”

He pointed to the peaceful march police took part in Sunday, adding that he knows many officers want to show support.

“It’s difficult for officers who feel a shared unity on the issue, a shared anger about what happened up there, then to bear the brunt of that anger is really hard on them,” Wahl said.

For more than a week, Wahl said many officers have been working 12 to 18 hour days. Now with days of peace, he hopes that can slow down.

The Police and Fire Commission is looking ahead, picking up on their search for a permanent chief.

“We should probably think about what stakeholders we should start having conversations with,” president Nia Enemuoh-Trammell said. “It might behoove us to open it up to the public to find out what groups they feel it’s important for us to talk to as we embark on the process.”

The PFC is planning to set a meeting with Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway, who said in a release Monday she wants to explore how to select a chief committed to police reform and social justice.

Meanwhile, Rhodes-Conway said the city will be posting an independent police auditor position as soon as it gets council approval and is searching for civilian oversight committee members, as well.