(WORT)–Madison Police Chief Mike Koval took to his blog Sunday to criticize an upcoming city council vote that would budget more money for an independent review of MPD policy.
“Bring it on,” Koval wrote. “We have nothing to hide and much to brag about.”
Be that as it may, there’s some concern that litigation over MPD practices may be forthcoming, following a recent investigation by the American Civil Liberties Union. On May 16th, attorneys for the ACLU sent MPD a letter urging the department to change the way it works with landlords to police rental housing.
Open records requests uncovered evidence that MPD regularly solicits updated tenant lists from landlords in South and Southwest Madison, and that neighborhood officers encourage landlords to use police records to weed out new applicants and review current tenants.
The ACLU letter says such practices create conditions conducive for discrimination, and for violations of the federal Fair Housing Act and Department of Housing and Urban Development guidelines.
Anders Zanichkowsky, Program Assistant at the Tenant Resource Center, says housing counselors have been hearing anecdotally about these kinds of practices for years.
Even though landlords are legally allowed to use criminal history and arrest records to deny an applicant housing, Zanichkowsky says that when the police encourage such practices, it creates a perfect storm in Madison’s tight rental market for a housing crisis among people of color who are incarcerated at disproportionate rates to their peers.
“Even tenants with a quote-unquote perfect record are finding it impossible to get into rental housing,” Zanichkowsky says. “This is a perfect storm for a public health crisis around homelessness and incarceration and we know this is mostly impacting blacks and Latinos.”
Chief Koval says he’ll be following the City Attorney’s lead in responding to the now three-week old letter. But in any case, he says the MPD does not control landlords’ rental practices.
“The Madison Police Department is not in the business of renting,” Koval says. “So it would be very difficult to establish that somehow or another we have violated FHA or other fair housing rules.”
Madison City Attorney Michael May says an official response should be out “within the next week or so.”
A staff attorney for the ACLU’s Racial Justice Program in New York says that what happens next will depend on MPD’s response. For the time being, the ball is still in Madison’s court.