‘They work for us. They need to answer to us’: Letter demands certain qualities be met in hiring new Madison police chief

Within 48 hours of publication, the letter has around 500 signatures and counting

MADISON, Wis. — In a near 17-page letter to the Madison Police and Fire Commission, community groups criticize interim Police Chief Vic Wahl and the police department saying they have a history of anti-blackness. The letter asks that the selection of the new chief needs to be carefully thought out and involve a heavy amount of public input.

“We are seeing clear racial disparities in the way police are handling people who are in the movement for black lives,” said Amelia Royko Maurer, co-founder of Madison’s Community Response Team.

Royko Maurer said that Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway’s request that a selection for a new chief be made in 90 days may not be enough time to select the candidate that the community is looking for. She said she is asking that the Police and Fire Commission “take their time to have a robust, transparent process. Making sure the people who are most impacted by police encounters have a strong voice in this process.”

Royko Maurer summarized what the letter is demanding in a new chief:

“Someone who has a history in anti-racism work. We are wanting somebody who listens to the people who hold them accountable. People who represent those most impacted by police encounters and we are wanting them to support a shift in power. A chief that understands that a healthy community needs very little policing. We want a police chief that is not going to be threatened by accountability and will counter the at times borderline criminal behavior of the police association.”

The letter describes recent public encounters with the Madison Police Department that community members say proves the need for their demands to be met in order to steer the police department in the right direction going forward.

“What we are asking for is not bizarre and it’s not unreasonable,” Royko Maurer said.  “It’s literally the most reasonable thing anyone could ask for. They work for us. They need to answer to us.”

The Madison Police and Fire Commission responded in a statement, saying, “The PFC has received oral and written input from numerous individuals and organizations regarding what it should be looking for in the next Chief of Police. The PFC’s process has and will continue to include robust community input through various methods.”

Rhodes-Conway also responded in a statement, saying, “I think it’s possible to have a robust community engagement process and to expedite the hiring of the new Chief at the same time.”

Wahl declined to comment on the letter.

To read the full letter, click here.