Madison police 2020 Accountability Report shows decrease in complaints filed, use of force incidents

MADISON, Wis. — On Thursday, the Madison Police Department released its 2020 Accountability Report. It shows a decrease in complaints and general use of force incidents compared to previous years. But it also shows an increase in MPD vehicle crashes.

There were 55 crashes involving MPD cars in 2020, compared to 48 in 2019 and 46 in 2018.

“One thing we do more than any other profession I think is drive. And I think it’s important that we continue to train for the way we drive,” said Madison Police Chief Shon Barnes.

Barnes was not in Madison in 2020, he was in North Carolina. He said the crash numbers really stand out to him, and he’s committed to bringing those numbers down this year.

The report also shows a decrease in complaints against MPD. There were 174 complaints filed in 2020, compared to 223 in 2019 and 203 in 2018.

But Barnes said it’s important to remember the context of the year 2020, especially since the coronavirus pandemic meant many people were quarantining. So there were less interactions with police.

“The answer that I would like to give you is that our officers, they always go out and they always treat people with respect and are professional and I think that’s the reason that the complaints go down. But it could be the less frequency, it could be that the calls were more of an emergency nature,” said Barnes.

Use of force was also down. There were 222 use of force incidents in 2020, a result of .18% of calls. In 2019 .22% of calls resulted in 322 use of force incidents. There were about 20,000 fewer calls for service in 2020 than there were in 2019.

Barnes said 2020 was an anomaly. The two weekends of significant unrest in Madison last summer were also unprecedented.

MPD separated use of force during those two weekends in the report. From May 30 to June 1 and August 24 to 25, Madison police used OC spray 104 times. Officers also used batons 56 times.

“Certainly if you’re trying to protect yourself or you’re trying to protect other people you’re justified in using those,” said Barnes.

He said those two weekends don’t represent the whole year, and he hopes 2021’s statistics show a truly improvement in the department.

“I know people want to point to civil unrest all the time but that’s not the whole story. I think we did grow as a community. People realized that the police, they still had to come to work,” said Barnes.

Barnes said not many police departments release Accountability Reports. But MPD is being transparent with the public. He said the community’s interest in these issues is one of the things that made Barnes want to come to Madison.