Madison mayor provides updates on efforts to improve public safety

Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes Conway

MADISON, Wis. — Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway provided an update on what the city has worked on so far and where it is going next when it comes to reimagining public safety in Madison.

“We know that the Black community has been harmed by racial bias in policing and the criminal justice system. I am committed to both improving policing in Madison, and working with the entire community to reimagine what public safety means to our city,” Rhodes-Conway said.

In a release, Rhodes-Conway said the city is in the process of making changes to make stronger relationships between the police and the community. The Police and Fire Commission is working to select a new police chief and has received more than 40 applicants.

Rhodes-Conway hopes the new chief can start in January. The city is also in the process of standing up Wisconsin’s first Civilian Oversight Board on policing. Its initial appointments to the board were recently announced and Common Council plans to add two more names this week.

Rhodes-Conway said the increased transparency will hopefully build trust between the community and the police.

The release said the city is strengthening the response to the surge of violence they’ve seen this year. They are supporting the efforts of the Community Safety Intervention Team which works to reduce gun violence in the community.

The city is also partnering with the county on a new investment creating a Violence Prevention Unit at Public Health Madison & Dane County.

Rhodes-Conway said in the process of reimagining public safety, the city is thinking about what jobs could be better performed by police and what jobs could be performed differently. These changes will be shown in the 2021 Executive Operating Budget the mayor will release Tuesday. The changes will be in the public health, community development, transportation and police budgets.

“This is a very tough budget year, and nearly every department is facing cuts. The Police Department is no exception. Reduced revenue (due to COVID) compounded with contractual obligation from the previous administration to raise pay in MPD, make our job harder this year,” Rhodes-Conway said. “We have asked the police union to come to the table to reconsider their contract, but they have not yet agreed. Nonetheless, we are moving forward.”

This fall, the city is partnering with Dane County to look at models of responding to behavioral health crises with social services instead of law enforcement. Rhodes-Conway said a new model will support those in crisis while reducing calls to police.

“In 2021, my focus will be on building the City’s support for violence prevention and alternative response models, which will take calls and responsibilities off MPD, while at the same time keeping the police focused on responding to dangerous and violent crime,” Rhodes-Conway said.