Further extending a year-long vacancy, the Madison Police and Fire Commission decided to delay its election of the Madison Police Department’s next chief following strong feedback and concerns from the public Wednesday.
The commission was supposed to elect a new police chief at its Dec. 9 meeting. However, abundant public disapproval for one of the four finalists and consternation directed at the commission itself prompted the setback and continuation of the year-long process that began after former MPD Chief Mike Koval’s retirement.
Community input stressed the need to elect a chief that prioritized outreach and relationships with communities of color in Madison in addition to a strong priority on addressing mental and behavioral health.
The candidates that appealed to residents the most were Ramon S. Batista and Shon Barnes.
Batista has worked in Arizona most of his life, and became the police chief of Mesa, Arizona, in 2017. Barnes, on the other hand, spent most of his law enforcement career in North Carolina, but now works in Chicago as the director of training and professional development with the Civilian Office of Police Accountability.
Many members of the public expressed dissatisfaction with finalist Christopher A. Davis, who currently serves as Deputy Chief of the Portland Police Bureau and has worked with college campuses before.
Davis’ department allegedly used excessive force, including “less-lethal bullets,” smoke grenades and tear gas on protesters over the summer despite a court order limiting the use of tear gas and other crowd controlling measures, according to the Wisconsin Examiner.
Davis is also being considered to be the next police chief for the Milwaukee Police Department. Protesters and community activists from Portland rebuked and warned against hiring the deputy chief.
“[In] my opinion, Chris Davis is part of the massive failure that is the [Portland Police Bureau],” activist Tai Carpenter told the Examiner. “Good riddance but good luck to Milwaukee. They go hand in hand. He’s not down on the ground but it’s one in the same. He’s responsible for that, there’s blood on his hands.”
In addition to collective disapproval toward Davis, attendees expressed disappointment at the commission for the meeting's lack of accessibility in receiving feedback about the finalists from residents in other cities like Portland. Community members also complained that the meeting was planned at an inaccessible time.
Public comments also reflected frustration with the process of electing the next police chief, arguing they lacked in including community input due to its timeline. The commission uploaded the finalists’ video interviews to their website on Wednesday, shortly before their deliberation meeting.
“Engage with the community,” said Madison community member and ASM Chair Matthew Mitnick. “This process needs to start back over from scratch with us Madisonians being involved every step of the way.”
Further, community members expressed discontent in the PFC’s vetting process, noting that they lacked transparency in their selection of candidates and did not listen to resident’s calls for a police chief that comes from a diverse background, among other recommendations.
“Community organizers have been pushing you to select a candidate of a diverse background that they would feel comfortable interacting with, specifically a local woman of color,” said community activist and recently announced candidate for the District 8 alder position on the Common Council Juliana Bennett. “You ignored the request for candidates that are local, of different genders and for the most part people of color.”
The PFC will meet again on Monday, Dec. 14, to continue the process.