With some feeling a recent lack of trust between police and community members, the Madison Police Department hired an independent police monitor to support marginalized communities and strengthen relationships between law enforcement and Madison residents.
According to the City of Madison 2020 police accountability report, the number of sustained
violations against police officers were more than double that of 2017 and 2018 and nearly a 25% increase from 2019. This means complaints of the police department and officer’s actions were found to be in violation of the department’s code of conduct.
This increase is especially prevalent with the uprising of the Black Lives Matter movement protests in 2020, following the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minnesota police.
John Tate II, the police department’s first independent police monitor, will serve as an advocate for citizens in need of protection in law enforcement. The Madison Police Department did not make Tate available to comment nor would provide a photo of him to Madison Commons
Tate has a master’s degree in social work from Loyola University Chicago, where he specialized in mental health. He previously served as a chairperson for the Wisconsin Parole Commission and a social worker, according to the City of Madison.
Tate will not report to the city council directly and is instead integrated into MPD, said Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway.
“I think the legislative intent there was not about upstream reducing of disparities but downstream. When bad things happen, having an independent person to go to who could investigate and intervene,” Rhodes-Conway said. “It’s a brand new office. The first incumbent will have a lot to say about the approach they take.”
John Patterson, assistant chief of police for the Madison Police Department and staff representative on the Police Civilian Oversight Board, said that relationships between police and the community have been questioned in recent years.
“I think we have, unfortunately, seen a lot of relationships that we thought were established, hit a reset button— based on [events] that have happened here locally but then certainly horrible events that have happened around the country,” Patterson said. “So recently it’s been a particularly trying time to reestablish legitimacy, trust and relationships.”
According to Patterson, the Police Civilian Oversight Board is looking to increase accountability and accountability to bring greater transparency to the police department.
“My hope is to do everything I can to ensure that [the position] is successful,’’ Patterson said. “We are 100% hopeful that the independent monitor is successful. We only stand to benefit from a heightened level of trust, transparency and accountability in the community. At the end of the day, we’re here to serve the community.”
Keith Findley, a law professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, has spent a majority of his career focused ons the criminal justice system and the individuals most vulnerable to it.
“I became involved in a clinical program where I was representing prison inmates,’’ Findley said. “I quickly learned and realized that there really is no segment of our society that is more disadvantaged and has greater legal needs than people accused or convicted of crimes.”
According to Findley, errors in the justice system are inevitable, but it is crucial to be careful of evidence produced, such as eyewitness testimonies,identification collected by the police and the way police interrogate suspects.
Findley also said the criminal justice system targets and punishes people of color more frequently and harshly, including those of lower socioeconomic status. These systemic problems are amplified in marginalized communities.
“These are serious problems that recur for many many years [and] we haven’t paid enough attention to it,” Findley said. “We’re just starting to wake up to those [problems] and, of course,
all of these error points have to be layered over other systemic problems like the racial
inequalities we see.”
According to Findley, Dane County has one of the worst racial disparity rates in criminal cases of anywhere in the country.
Findley said the Madison and Dane County area has tried to make strides in eradicating errors like false confessions and eyewitness account errors but fundamentally, the structures we rely on will continue to produce errors.
“The Civilian Oversight Board has really addressed one aspect of the [criminal justice system] and its community-police relationships, trust between those communities and giving the community an oversight on things like the way and the extent to which police use force,” Findley said.
Additionally, Patterson emphasizes the need for the Madison community to feel the police are accountable in their communities and responsive to civilian needs.
The Police Civilian Oversight board did not comment on its decision. According to Findley, the Police Civilian Oversight Board is designed to be a voice in the community.
“[The board] gives [people] an opportunity to scrutinize how the police conduct their business, sort of on a policy level but also on an individual case level, to make it more transparent,” Findley said. “It’s absolutely a resource for members of the community to gain information and access to an input into policing in this community.”