Retired Madison police chief says department is connected to the community

Retired Madison police chief says department is connected to the community
David Couper

Retired Madison Police Chief David Couper believes there are significant differences between communities like Ferguson, Missouri and Madison.  Both experienced recent officer involved shooting deaths of young African-American men. 

On August 9 Michael Brown, an 18-year-old was shot and killed by a police officer in Ferguson.  When a grand jury decided to not indict Ferguson Police officer Darren Wilson it resulted in extensive rioting in the suburb of St. Louis.

Tony Robinson, a 19-year-old was shot and killed by Madison police Officer Matt Kenny on March 6. Kenny is a 12-year veteran of the Madison Police Department.

The Department of Justice has conducted an investigation into the shooting and turned those results over the Dane County District Attorney’s office.

Retired Chief Couper said the two situations are different primarily because of the community engagement and neighborhood policing that the Madison Police Department has practiced for decades.

“I think the department has always attempted to be a leader and even a world leader.  We’ve had many people seeing the way in which we’ve done business and the way we do policing in Madison,” Couper said. 

He said unrest in communities like Ferguson likely resulted from a lack of connection between the Police Department and the citizens. Couper said any comparison between the situation in Ferguson and Madison is unfair.

“That’s pretty unfair. I read the U.S. Civil Rights report on Ferguson. We have a police department in Madison that is diverse, that works with the community, that is very respectful of protests and is very tolerant,” Couper said.

The community policing philosophy that the Madison police embrace was started by Couper and the Madison police administration in the early 1970s. It places a priority on having officers connect and engage citizens in the community.

While he sees Madison as a very good police department, Couper also believes it must continue to look for ways to become even better. He said that means exploring ways to diminish the instances in which deadly force is necessary.

“You know it is not bad cops. It is a system that can be improved and we expect Madison to do it and lead the way,” Couper said.