City of

District 18

Alder Rebecca Kemble

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Alder Rebecca Kemble

Contact Information

Home Address:

4217 School Rd
Madison , WI 53704

Council Office

Common Council Office:
210 Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd
Room 417
Madison, WI 53703
Phone: (608) 266-4071
Fax: (608) 267-8669
WI Relay Service

Alder Kemble’s Blog

Supporting MPD's Core Value of Continuous Improvement

January 16, 2018 2:27 AM

In a recent email to all Alders expressing her support for funding the addition of 8 additional police officers, a resident wrote this: "A good Alder looks at the big picture and not just his or her issue." I heartily agree with her.

The statement is especially true when considering budgetary decisions. Council members have to weigh requests in the context of every other city agency and initiative and according to our mutually agreed upon priorities. I would like to share with you some of the information at our disposal and a view of the big picture within which we will be making our decision on this question.

Sorting out the arguments for adding additional police officers has been confusing. MPD has cited staffing reports that are based on incomplete data (such as not factoring in the number of officers responding to calls in and around Madison employed by multiple other law enforcement agencies such as UW Police, Capitol Police, Maple Bluff, Shorewood Hills, Town of Madison, Monona Police), and designed with a bias toward getting a particular result.

Between the Mayor and MPD there are contradicting claims about why these officers are needed. The Mayor has said more officers are needed due to the increase in shots fired incidents and the frequency of the times when officers respond to priority calls only.

However, MPD command staff and Chief Koval have said that the request has nothing to do crime rates or priority calls only times, but rather due to the workload of patrol officers. They report that officers are experiencing overtime burnout and are being denied days off, creating health and morale problems amongst patrol officers. However, without any actual data, analysis or evaluation of the effectiveness of current patterns of deployment of MPD's 469 sworn officers (only approximately 190 or 40% of whom are assigned to patrol), it is impossible to determine the cause of this burnout or to attribute it to inadequate overall staffing numbers.

Workers who provide vital public services in other agencies such as Metro, Streets and the City Clerk's office also rack up overtime hours, are denied requests for days off and experience burnout. Their agency heads do not initiate or promote public campaigns to increase their budgets to provide more staffing. They rather manage the challenges throughout the year by shifting resources within their departments and make their cases for more staff to the Mayor at budget time.

A more recent argument made by command staff at a recent Finance Committee meeting that I find difficult to understand is that we need to increase the budget for more staff due to an increase in the rate of retirements. Filling positions vacated due to retirement does not require additional budget authority, nor would it require the purchase of additional vehicles that are not already accounted for in the capital budget.

According to the Finance Department, overall city staffing from 1999 to 2016 has increased 18%, more or less keeping pace with population growth. They note that most of that growth has been due to a small handful of city agencies, MPD chief among them.

MPD funding represents about one quarter of the entire City of Madison operating budget at around $70 million. From 1999 to 2016 MPD staffing has increased 23% (see graph below prepared by City Finance). For at least the past 10 years MPD has never been denied a request for more patrol officers by the Common Council. 

staffing graph
City of Madison Agency FTE Staffing Increases 1999-2016

One of the biggest bundles of information at our disposal as we consider this budget request has come in the form of a 245-page report on the policies, practices and procedures of MPD authored by OIR Group, a consulting agency who has spent the past year working with MPD and many hundreds of people in Madison to understand the strengths and challenges of the department. While there is no direct recommendation about optimal staffing numbers, many of the recommendations have a bearing on staffing and the conditions under which good decisions should be made about it. 

Contrary to the assertions of some in the media and in the community that funds for the OIR study were not well spent and yielded little in the way of new information about MPD, the report itself is chock full of substantial findings and recommendations that will take some time for the community, MPD and policy makers to digest and understand.

Of the 146 recommendations from OIR, 55 have to do with improving accountability and 51 involve improving transparency. Sixteen of the recommendations have budget implications, 42 involve increasing cooperation with other agencies and community actors, 27 suggest improvements in data collection and analysis. Another 25 are directed at dealing with racial equity both within the department and in terms of how it engages with the public, 36 recommend structural changes, 30 involve improved and expanded training opportunities and 71 of the recommendations suggest policy or procedural changes. Many recommendations fall into several of these categories. 

The initial general response to the report from MPD has been positive, with many individual officers and command staff praising the even-handedness and thoroughness of the report. MPD's official, detailed response will be completed by the end of this month. 

A significant finding in the study is the lack of field performance data relating to the qualitative aspects of community and problem-solving policing, and the absence of any performance evaluation processes for MPD employees, including the Chief. "Madison presents the unique situation where the tenure of its Chief is immune from a City Administrator, elected officials, the electorate itself, or any evaluation process," (p. 221 OIR Report).

When presented with public comments expressing shock that police were not subject to performance reviews at a recent Finance Committee meeting, Chief Koval said that he was following in his mentor David C. Couper's footsteps by eschewing performance evaluations comprised of quantitative measures based on traditional policing such as numbers of arrests, citations, etc. Under Couper's direction, MPD (as well as other city agencies at the time) embraced the Deming Management Method, which is focused on collective outputs rather than individual performance evaluations.

Recently, I asked former Chief Couper about abandoning traditional performance reviews and inquired about how he held his department and the individuals who worked in it accountable for the desired outcomes. He said, "The key is how the community evaluates its police - what comes out the spout." He also indicated that systems of communication and mutual accountability were in place and documented, making specific reference to the "4 point check" which involves each individual getting feedback on their role and performance in the organization from peers, subordinates, superiors and themselves. According to the OIR team, none of these measures are currently in place.

Unfortunately, some of what is coming "out the spout" as documented in this report taints otherwise positive results. Recent outputs include loss of trust from significant portions of the community based on perceived racial bias in use of force and increased incidents of officer involved shootings over the past several years. Additionally, record high settlements and court awards resulting from these incidents totaling $12 million have resulted in large increases to the City's liability insurance deductibles and premiums, ongoing expenses that will be shouldered by the taxpayers for years to come.

MPD is at its best when their staff collaborates with other city, county and nonprofit agencies as well as community members to solve problems that are harming residents. It is at its best when command staff, patrol, investigative and special unit officers are aligned in their mission to incorporate restorative justice procedures and a genuine problem-solving orientation and principles into their practice while continuing to hold people accountable for the harm they cause in community.

A recent example of this is the community meeting held on January 12 to discuss recent shots fired incidents on the Northside. In collaboration with Dane County Supervisor Michele Ritt, Alder Larry Palm and me, Officer Dave Dexheimer assembled MPD and Community Development Division staff working on recent shots fired calls and youth violence on the Northside to paint a broader picture of what is happening with these incidents. North District Captain Jay Lengfeld and Gang Unit officer Terry Loos informed us that the recent incidents at School and Wheeler did not seem to be specifically targeting people or property, although a home on Judy Lane was hit by a stray bullet. According to their intelligence, the theory they are working on is that the perpetrators are people riding around in cars looking for dark places like Northland Manor Park and Warner Park to shoot off guns. 

They explained that cooperation from witnesses and neighbors and detective work done by the special units and Criminal Intelligence officer John Boespflug are the resources needed to deal with these crimes. At no time during the meeting did any MPD staff mention that more patrol officers would help reduce this kind of behavior. What they did say would help is more timely turn around in forensic evidence analysis from the State Crime Lab, more surveillance cameras, and most importantly, more social and community support for youth as young as 10 years old who are vulnerable to getting involved with this kind of risky and dangerous behavior. I also added that I would be speaking with Parks about getting more lighting around Northland Manor Park and the driveway to Cherokee Marsh near the oil collection site.

The restorative justice work done by MPD officers is another shining example of MPD at its best. The OIR report makes special mention of Youth Courts in High Schools and the recent expansion into Community Restorative Court as models held up across the nation (see pp. 44-46).

MPD is at its worst when leadership threatens elected officials, denigrates racial justice movements and dismisses those who support them as "perpetually offended." It is at its worst when serious concerns from the community about use of lethal and non-lethal force and racial disparities in arrests are met with defensiveness and an unwillingness to admit any responsibility or room for substantial improvement. And it is at its worst when "small pockets of MPD subcultures" (as described by the OIR investigators) create stressful and hostile working environments for fellow officers by expressing racist attitudes that are antithetical to and undermine MPD's goals of community and problem-solving policing (see p. 161 of the report).

Pages 5 and 6 of the OIR report detail concerns about the above issues. Specifically they have noted, "If a stakeholder questions the need for additional police resources over other resource demands, the immediate assumption seems to be a bothersome lack of support for law enforcement."

As an example, two days before the Common Council voted to allocate funds for the study of the MPD that was eventually conducted by OIR, Chief Koval published a blistering public blog expressing his opinion that apportioning $400,000 to fund a study of MPD was an irresponsible and useless expenditure of resources. In it he wrote:

"To the Common Council:  You are being watched.  And be on notice:  this is a pre-emptive first strike from me to you. I am going to push back hard when MPD is constantly used as a political punching bag and you are nowhere to be found."

The vitriolic language coming from leadership on this issue has set the tone for others in the community who express similar sentiments in much more crude and violent ways, as Phil Mendel from Verona did in a recent email to all Alders:

"Nice job blowing 400,000 on a pointless white witch Hunt you f***ing liberal pieces of s**t - I hope one of these savages you defend busts your f***ing heads open as they Rob & rape you."

After being contacted by police in response to complaints made to Chief Koval by several Alders, Mr. Mendel apologized for the lanuage he used. 

The adversarial relationship that has resulted from this type of communication coming from the Chief and some MPD boosters in the community is not healthy for the Department and the nearly six hundred skilled and professional workers of good will who serve in it, or for the community as a whole. Making decisions in the atmosphere of these kinds of threats and insinuations that those of us who critically evaluate requests for more resources are inherently anti-police is extremely challenging and stressful. Personally, working under these conditions has required me to develop an extraordinary amount of inner strength and peace in order to think and communicate clearly and honestly about the topic and to maintain and build upon my good relationships with MPD staff.

The facts as I see them add up to this: We don't have enough information to make a fiscally responsible decision on whether or not more patrol officers are needed.

According to findings in the OIR report, MPD can't objectively say whether or not they are living up to their own standards. Because they do not currently have evaluation and feedback mechanisms to measure this, they have no way of knowing. How can MPD say they are continually improving if there are no benchmarks? 

As the public body that shares authority with the Mayor over MPD's budget, the Council should ensure that we are applying standards for requests for staff increases fairly and evenly across all city agencies. Additionally and perhaps more importantly, we should support the workers of MPD to achieve progress in living up to the core values of Human Dignity, Service, Community Partnership, Integrity, Diversity, Leadership and Proficiency and Continuous Improvement by helping them institute measures to evaluate and track progress in these areas, and to support, uplift and incentivize those within the Department who have modeled these values in their day-to-day work. Much of this effort will require a significant amount of financial resources, which the budget amount currently under consideration could support.

MPD told OIR investigators that they would be postponing a planned strategic planning initiative until after the results of the study were in. OIR has recommended that MPD open this initiative to meaningful engagement with the community at large. One final over-arching question in my mind is this: If we are about to go down this path that could result in multiple structural and operational changes, why would we make costly investments in a staffing model about which we have very little objective information in terms of its effectiveness?

Until the following issues are adequately addressed, I cannot in good conscience vote for more budget authority to increase staffing in MPD:

  1. Lack of a consistent and objectively verifiable reason for more staff
  2. Lack of data and analysis about the effectiveness of the current staffing model
  3. Lack of performance data (qualitative or quantitative) that shows that MPD staff are meeting the standards of community and problem-solving policing to which they aspire
  4. Lack of broad community involvement in setting general standards for MPD that can be evaluated in a transparent way
  5. Climate of distrust and combative attitude of Chief Koval toward Common Council
  6. Lack of justification for the consistent and large budget and staffing increases over time that are not enjoyed by other overworked departments providing vital city services

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