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Wednesday, June 19, 2024

City council approves police oversight measures amid rising internal tensions

Madison’s common council passed landmark legislation establishing an independent police monitor and civilian review board with overwhelming public support on Tuesday. 

The ordinances regarding police accountability were passed in four nearly unanimous votes and come in the wake of mounting racial tension in Madison and across the country, which has most recently been on display after the shooting of a Black man, Jacob Blake, by police officers in Kenosha, Wis. 

The creation of the board fulfills some of the 177 recommendations outlined by a 2015 report to reform the MPD and partially addresses the demands of activists who had been petitioning for increased police oversight since officer Matt Kenny shot and killed Tony Robinson in 2015.

Although the independent monitor and civilian review board have no direct regulatory authority over the Madison police force, these bodies are given broad powers to investigate the activities and personnel associated with MPD and are then able to make policy recommendations or express concerns to the Police and Fire Commission.  

“I genuinely believe, as a lawyer and a policy expert with four degrees, that it’s time to change the status quo, because it’s clearly not working for the community,” stated Ankita Bharadwaj, a graduate student who registered to speak at the council session. “What is there to hide? What can’t we see that is happening behind closed doors? Why is there no accountability?”

Another registered speaker, Bianca Tomasini agreed with Bharadwaj and said “Racism has been enacted in policy for hundreds of years. This is a chance to rectify violence by policy. The creation of this board is just as carefully, painstakingly written by the Alder group is a very small step towards equity in this city.” 

Following the adoption of the legislation, Mayor Rhodes-Conway declared the new accountability programs to be a “milestone” in renewing trust between the community and MPD.

“I hope this long-awaited effort will result in the transparency the community demands, as well as contribute to greater community confidence and trust in our police department,” Rhodes-Conway said.  

In an interview with the Daily Cardinal, Matthew Mitnick, a UW-Madison student and member of the civilian review board said “the board brings back democracy into local government ... ultimately, it will help create accountability and control over community policing.” 

These new measures of police accountability come at a time of heightened tension between Rhodes-Conway and some members of the city council over the ongoing protests that have taken place during the last several months.

During the same Monday meeting, an unidentified alderman could be heard at 8:14:36 saying the word “c*nt” shortly after Mayor Rhodes-Conway introduced a member of the public, Shadayra Kilfoy, who had been scheduled to speak. Although it is presently unclear as to which alderman used the profanity, several members of the common council have accused Ald. Paul Skidmore of District 9.

When asked if he was responsible for the audible slur, Skidmore replied, “No. It was not me … that is not my habit. I haven’t done that. I don’t do it in my personal life, and I didn’t do it then.” 

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Despite claims of innocence, former District 8 Alder Sally Rohrer expressed her distaste for Skidmore via Twitter, noting that the alder had never acknowledged her despite sitting next to her for 5 months at city council meetings. Current District 8 Alder Max Prestigiacomo simply tweeted “Paul Skidmore is a racist.” 

Following the incident, the mayor’s office has issued a statement condemning the use of profanity by city councilmembers calling the behavior “unacceptable” and commenting that “over the past few months, the culture and civility of Common Council meetings has drastically deteriorated.” 

Despite this statement, Rhodes-Conway’s hesitance to address Skidmore seems to contradict her previous willingness to denounce the behavior of some city council members such as Max Prestigiacomo, who posted a flyer on his official Facebook page that condoned violent protests.

The flyer read, “Madison stands with Kenosha… F—- Kenosha PD. F—- Madison PD. F—- Milwaukee PD. F—- Chicago PD. No bad protesters. No good cops. Come prepared. Wear a mask. Bring water. No peace police. Do what you want. F—- S—- up.”

In response to the incident, Rhodes-Conway criticized Prestigiacomo for potentially inciting acts of violence.

“Elected officials are rightly held to a higher standard in their communications, and should be mindful of the impact of their words on public safety,” Rhodes-Conway said. 

Former candidate for state senate Nada Elmikashfi found fault with the Mayor’s response, authoring a tweet stating “The Mayor of Madison was so quick to condemn Prestigiacomo for standing w/ the Black Lives Matter movement after Jacob Blake was shot. Let’s see if the same haste will be made to condemn Alder Skidmore for calling a public speaker a c*** during council.”

As of Saturday, Sept. 5, 14 out of 20 Madison City Council members have signed a letter calling on the person who uttered the profanity during the council session to come forward. 

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