The Madison Police Department has released its accountability report for 2019. The report details internal conduct violations, use of force information and formal complaints issued against department officers.
The MPD has faced criticism in the past for its lack of transparency. Last October, a citizen Ad Hoc Committee suggested 177 changes to the department’s operations. Many of those changes involved the department’s transparency and communications efforts.
The committee was convened after the shooting of Tony Robinson five years ago. Robinson, an unarmed Black teenager, was shot and killed by Madison Police Officer Matt Kenny. Kenny was found not guilty of use of excessive force by the Dane County District Attorney and an MPD internal review. Still, the city paid over 3 million dollars to the family of Mr. Robinson to settle a lawsuit over his death, and the killing prompted waves of community protest and criticism and became part of the Black Lives Matter movement.
The goal of the accountability report is to increase transparency in the department, says Acting Chief of Police Vic Wahl. Before the public reports, data was logged internally at the MPD.
“Going back historically, the things included in this report have all been stored in different databases and through different mechanisms and processes. In recent years, we’ve had some new software and improved collection processes, so now we’re able to really, in an effective way, get at this data, compile it, analyze it, and put it in a format where we can release it,” he says.
Compared to last year’s report, MPD has seen a sharp increase in its sustained violations. Sustained violations are cases where an officer’s actions have been reviewed and found in violation of the MPD’s Code of Conduct.
The spike can be attributed to an over one thousand percent increase in violations of MPD’s “Emergency Vehicle Operation Guidelines.”
Chief Wahl says the increase in operation guideline violations, and the resulting jump in sustained cases, is due to the department redefining what it views as a violation. He says that, setting aside that category, the number of sustained violations is consistent with previous years.
“We brought those over into the complaint processing system and that’s why officers who are involved in minor accidents are showing up as sustained complaints. Most of these are fender benders, minor damage where they’re handled through a real low-level verbal counseling,” he says.
The report also shows a spike in citizen contacts where “recordable force” was used. Recordable force means physical actions taken by officers during confrontation, such as tasering and baton strikes.
The MPD recorded 322 cases of recordable force last year.
That’s about .2% of total cases. But it’s over 100 more than in 2018, the first year the police department issued an accountability report.
The Madison Police Department says, again, the increase can be traced back to a single category. This past year, the department changed the way in which takedowns, also known as tackles, were tracked and logged.
The change caused a spike in the amount of takedown cases the department recorded in 2019.
“Again that is just reflecting a bit of a change internally in practices… Basically we’ve just sort of said, instead of trying to really do a fine granular analysis on which of those do or don’t count under the definition of a takedown, we’re just going to count them all,” he says. “And so that’s why you see that jump in numbers there, and I don’t think it reflects a real change in activity, it’s just an internal process change.”