Four finalists in the race for a new police chief have been announced by the Madison Police and Fire Commission in a press release, roughly a year after former Madison police chief Mike Koval’s surprise retirement from the force.
The past year has brought heightened scrutiny on the Madison Police Department after tensions rose between police and protesters during this summer’s demonstrations. Additionally, Madison Metropolitan School District chose to cancel its contract with MPD this summer, citing concerns about the safety of students of color.
Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway has long pressed for the decision to be made to assist the city in responding to civil unrest downtown and assure public safety. Victor Wahl, the interim MPD Chief, has taken over most duties after Koval's leave, but did not have interest in the permanent position of Chief of Police.
Shon Barnes, one of the finalists, spent most of his career working in North Carolina in Greensboro and Salisbury, where he worked as deputy police chief from 2017 to 2020. Since then, he has worked in Chicago as the director of training and professional development with the Civilian Office of Police Accountability.
Ramon S. Batista Jr., another candidate, worked for most of his career in the Tucson police department, until 2017, when he was hired as police chief of Mesa, Arizona.
Larry R. Sciotto, the youngest assistant chief of police in Pittsburgh’s history, is also vying for the position. He worked as an executive there for 13 years, all while serving as a men’s basketball referee for the Pac 12 and Big 10.
The fourth candidate, Christopher A. Davis, is the current Deputy Chief of the Portland Police Bureau. He also has experience working with universities, as his prior place of employment was the Arizona State University Police Department. Davis is also a top contender for the job of Milwaukee police chief.
Though Davis’ work and experience have garnered him respect from the police forces of Wisconsin’s two largest cities, his department was hit with a lawsuit alleging that his officers used excessive force in the anti-police brutality protests that shook cities nationwide this summer.
Following the initial lawsuit, and despite a court order limiting the use of tear gas against protesters, the PPB once again used “less-lethal bullets,” smoke grenades and tear gas on protesters, leading to more legal trouble Davis’ department, per the Wisconsin Examiner.
Despite surveys conducted by the PFC and multiple virtual town halls, the committee has received a less-than-expected level of community involvement.
Shadyra Kilfoy-Flores, a member of the Police Community Oversight Board, which was formed in the wake of protests this summer, expressed her concerns in an interview with Channel 3000.
“The community has to feel as though they’re part of these really big decisions that are going to affect our entire community,” she said. “There should’ve been more community input at every step of the way, but particularly at this point. It’s absolutely essential to establish some sort of trust.”.
The four male candidates will be interviewed by the PFC with video of the sessions uploaded to the Board’s website on Wednesday, Dec. 9, shortly before board members meet at 5:30 p.m. to discuss the candidates.
If a decision is not made, further deliberations will occur during their regularly scheduled meeting on Monday, Dec. 14.