City of Madison suggests new changes to MPD procedures

In the past few years Madison Police Department has faced criticism in light of the fatal police shootings of Paul Heenan, Tony Robinson and William Schumacher.

However, MPD ensured that these were not the moments that defined their relationship with the Madison community.

Each year an estimated 40 million people have face-to-face contact with the police. These contacts include calls for service, crime reports, traffic stops and public stops. These are the moments that can change our minds, according to  Captain Jim Wheeler of the Madison Police Department.

“There are officers who take money out of their own pockets, you know who do certain things like visiting parents. That’s outreach to me,” Wheeler said.   

 Often police officers don’t realize when they are making a difference in small ways, he said.


Capt. Wheeler represents MPD at the City of Madison’s Subcommittee for Police and Community Relations. (Emelia Rohl/Madison Commons)Capt. Wheeler represents MPD at the City of Madison’s Subcommittee for Police and Community Relations. (Emelia Rohl/Madison Commons)


“When somebody says, ‘Hey, thank you for what you did for me some years ago. You know, it really changed my life.’ It was always good to feel like you’re making some kind of change, even though it might be small,” Wheeler said . 

This relationship between police and the communities they serve, has been questioned nationally and locally. The City of Madison, local activists, community members and state legislators have proposed ways to improve this relationship between MPD and the public. In response to community concerns about excessive police force, the City of Madison created a subcommittee for police and community relations that opened a dialogue between the police force and the city.

Other improvement efforts include the $373, 800 review of MPD conducted by a California based investigation group, the OIR-Group. The investigation group is expected to have completed their evaluation of MPD by the end of 2017 when they will offer their recommendations to the City of Madison.

Another major proposal to MPD is changing their current use of force policy, an effort spearheaded by state Rep. Chris Taylor.

“Basically officers can use whatever amount of force as long as they reasonably perceive a threat. And that’s it. There are no guidelines, “ Taylor explained.

According to Taylor, Madison should go above and beyond the state standard and make the use of force policy more specific.   


Are these actions necessary?

In 2014 MPD hired Sergeant Kimba Tieu as the use of force coordinator to document and review every incident where force was employed by the department.

“We use a reasonableness standard in terms of how we apply force,” Tieu said. “We could look at what’s feasible.”

MPD uses verbal de-escalation tactics as alternatives to force. According to Tieu, de-escalating an incident improves safety for all in a given scenario.

Tieu said the department “absolutely” does want to use de-escalation “where time permits, where the circumstances warrant.”   

In 2016 MPD has used force 168 times. To put this in perspective, out of all the police contacts MPD has with the community, they employed force 0.1 percent of the time.

On a national level, force was used about 1.6 percent of time according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

Taylor’s Use of Force proposal uses language that should guarantee that the MPD has exhausted all alternatives to escalate a situation before force is used.

“These are all things [in the policy] that had been recommended or things that are already being used by other police departments that seem to make a real difference,” Taylor said. “Deadly force should only be used as a last resort.”

Matthew Braunginn, a member of the Young, Gifted and Black Coalition, advocated in support of Taylor’s efforts to amend use of force policies across the state.


(Emelia Rohl/Madison Commons)(Emelia Rohl/Madison Commons)


“It’s setting up a higher standard for police officers, when they really misuse their position of power,” Braunginn said. 

Prior to this legislation proposal, however, MPD’s policies had already identified in their officers’ duty to preserve life, to prioritize de-escalation tactics, and to document and review incidents where force was used. 

MPD also has been recognized as national leader in progressive police training on implicit bias.

In 2015 “The Daily Show with Trevor Noah” explored the question: “Are all Cops Racist?” When exploring this topic “The Daily Show” featured MPD as a pioneer in implicit bias training, where officers are annually trained with real-life scenarios to combat implicit bias.

Deputy Mayor and former MPD detective Gloria Reyes, said everybody experiences implicit bias, including the residents calling in a crime report and the police officers who respond.

According to Reyes, implicit bias is something everybody experiences, and it’s not something to feel bad about because it doesn’t make you racist.

“You know it takes training, it really takes a lot of self awareness and self development,” Reyes said.

In addition to these steps, the department also assesses implicit bias prior to hiring. According to MPD Chief of Police Michael Koval, each candidate undergoes a series of implicit bias tests, one issued by Harvard and the other by the department’s psychiatrist. After the tests the candidates take classes where they confront implicit bias in real-world scenarios.

Another method to tackling implicit bias is diversifying MPD’s recruitment force, according to Koval.

MPD’s current officer demographics are representative of the Madison population with about 80 percent Caucasian officers and 20 percent minorities.

According to Wheeler, he was drawn to MPD when he did a ride along with a female African-American officer in college. Through it, he learned about the diversity of the department and the culture of Madison.

Similarly, Tieu, a Milwaukee native, said he was drawn to MPD and its welcoming force, which fit with his desire to serve the public.

“Quite frankly I didn’t want to be the only one, if you will, of a type demographic, so at Madison I felt like ‘this is home,’” Tieu said. “They do mean what they say when they say diversity is important and we accept all people.”


Working on a national problem locally

Despite the department’s  efforts some members of the community are still searching for ways to rebuild the relationship between the police and the public.

According to Brauginn, it’s time to hold the police accountable, address the racial disparities that exist in Madison and the reality of black America’s relationship with the police.

Wheeler said that the department sometimes struggles with parsing out MPD and national issues with police.

“The difficult part for, I think us and the Madison Police Department is that other police departments are overlaid onto the Madison Police Department,” Capt. Wheeler explained.

To others, healing and restoring trust focused internally to Madison are the critical pieces. 

“I think that the community needs to find a way to heal. We just need to understand each other and take some steps closer,” Reyes said.  “I think when we talk about our Hmong community, our African American community, it’s just building trust in our everyday, day-to-day interactions that we have with people.”

Through multiple community outreach programs MPD continues to foster trusting relationships within the community, according to Wheeler.

“This is us,” Capt. Wheeler explained. “The public service, it’s a good feeling.”


Click the image above to see the numbers about MPD's use of force and implicit bias.