Last night the South Police District hosted the community and our consultant, Matrix, for 90 minutes worth of discussion on the Madison Police Department's "Strategic Plan". This was a Zoom meeting with about 15 citizens. I appreciated hearing some of the comments the community provided. Matrix will now take this information and the information they received from other District listening sessions and work with MPD on our Strategic Plan. As host of the event, MPD's role was to listen and take notes. I want to share some of the themes I heard last night and then offer further thoughts on what we do. Here are some of the themes:
- National police incidents impact citizen views on our local police
- People in minority community think we over-police in the neighborhoods they live in
- We want to know our Officers personally, "beyond just the badge"
- Police should not be too burdened with societal issues such as Housing, Education, Trauma, Homelessness
- MPD's biggest challenge moving forward will be how the "community feels about them"
A constant statement I have heard in my 21-year career with MPD from friends and citizens has been "Wow, you have a difficult job" or "I could never do your job". Well, I probably couldn't be an electrician. . . Policing is challenging and we go from "zero to 100 mph" (not in a car) based on what call for service we receive. Just imagine what an Officer thinks when responding to a "shots fired call": "where am I going, how do I drive there quickly, what are the radio updates telling me, who is injured, how far away should I park to be safe myself, where is my back-up, preserve life, preserve evidence, find the suspect, and how do I survive to return to loved ones at the end of my shift". . . all racing in the mind for the next 2 minutes. That is a lot. We respond, daily, to domestic violence, car crashes, fights, gun calls and more. Some days are busier than others are and you should be extremely proud of your department as we manage complete chaos and the unthinkable when others run from it. We hire Officers who want to help people and society. We have a highly educated, outgoing, heartfelt force and that is sometimes lost in the narrative we hear about policing. Know that Officers make split second decisions, based on training, to reach the best, safest outcome. Not a single Officer that I worked with signed up to fail, mislead or be unethical. We have a winning mindset as we cannot lose and in losing I refer to not losing our professionalism, ethics, trust or grasp on a violent offender; all mixed in one.
After the meeting, I thought of so many more things I wanted to say. Did you know, as illustrated on our department's website that in 2021 of the 137,456 calls for service MPD responded to, we used force LESS THAN 1% of the time? In fact, the number is .18%. This is incredible because over .09% of those were simply taking someone to the ground who was violent, resistive or under arrest. Some people live or re-live media and movies believing all of the violence, shootings and use of force police incur is to be reality.
We always explore new ways for our Officers to engage the community more. MPD has paved the way in community policing for decades. We encourage our staff to attend events, build relations and help plan dozens of events every year . . . so just invite us and we will be there! We have an enriching summer lining up already! However, our Officers are human. We do not necessarily want the community knowing all of our private lives . . . do you? We are parents, brothers, sisters, sons and daughters. We coach sports, mentor, go on hikes, fish and have normal lives just like everyone else. In fact, we encourage our staff to have a life outside of work and to always have things to look forward to as it is healthy for the mind and body. Just think of the calls for service listed above. The average citizen does not respond to 2-3 death scenes a month, shootings, violent domestics or foot chase a violent criminal. It takes a special person in so many ways to be a Police Officer.
As noted, some of the discussion swirled around "over policing" in a neighborhood. There are so many themes of policing out there, from "problem orientated policing" to "hot spot policing" and more. The Officers on patrol do not follow a set path to drive along during patrol. They have areas to cover and can drive wherever they want until a call for service. Neighborhood Police Officers are located in a certain neighborhood not to "over police" but to assist with community issues, engage, keep order and build leaders. No other government entity is as involved or engaged in neighborhoods than the police. We are in neighborhoods 24/7. We understand too much policing can have an impact and we monitor this as Command staff. Our neighborhoods want to know our officers and those that have a dedicated Neighborhood Officer invite us to cookouts, birthday parties, sports and more. This is how you get to know our staff, by the community inviting us to events.
Building trust was also a theme of last night. We, as an agency, are willing and able. We want great relations in our community. Who doesn't?? As I have mentioned numerous times before, the Madison Police Department makes a concerted effort to train our staff on building relations with the community, particularly the teenagers. We have specific training on how to police and engage teenagers. However, what I have noted is the lack of anything the community has, as a matter of curriculum, to teach teenagers and younger on how to interact and engage with the police. There is no curriculum in the schools, neighborhood centers or libraries that adults and teachers can follow which addresses youth interacting with police. Can our highly educated community develop something that teaches our youth the importance of police in society? Can it please include issues of Rights, Freedoms, the police role in society, maintaining order, responding to burglaries and assaults, gunfire and solving crimes? Let's also sprinkle in "engaging with the police" who are there to help and to humanize Officers as parents, friends, brothers, sisters, coaches and more in our community. The youth are our future and movies and the media are teaching them a certain narrative about the police.
I really appreciated the notion that our group last night did not think police should be heavily involved in societal issues. We can always lend support and advice but the reality is we do not have the staff or training to take on homeless issues, mental health issues, education and more.
The final theme was for MPD's "biggest challenge moving forward". The answer most agreed with is the fact MPD has to deal with how the community feels about them (meaning MPD). We need to do a better job of explaining what we do and why we do it. So many times, after brave and heroic instances Officers will simply state, "I was doing my job"; which is true. If the community wants to know what we do, we can easily illustrate a better picture through various mechanisms. If you are at all wondering more about us, simply explore. Come to our events, talk to an Officer, engage yourself, review our social media and department website. Ask us what it is like to police in Madison, ask about a tough call lately or ask about where we are from. Your Officers will engage. We like the simple things and it is far easier engaging with you in a peaceful manner, than at a violent scene. For those who may either have criticisms, interpret the national news as local policing or just have questions; I encourage you to get involved to learn more about us on a relational level. We are hear for you, 24/7! Give the Madison Police Department a chance to succeed and please do your part in engaging and educating yourself about policing in Madison.