The below blog is written by Wisconsin State Representative Melissa Sargent.
Remember riding the seesaw as a child? There was that one point as you were riding where you and your friend could find the center of balance and stay at the same level, miraculously hovering across from one another. It was difficult to do, but an achievement if you could accomplish it.
In much of the same way, police departments and police officers are constantly trying to find a center of balance in communities across our country. Their goal is to find the perfect balance of community safety, personal liberty, and officer safety.
I recently took the opportunity to see our police department up close. After receiving an email about the Madison Police Department's Citizen Academy, I jumped at the opportunity – not just to hear what they had to say, but to question what they do. The Citizen's Academy is designed to give the public a working knowledge of what our police department does, what their values are, what their training entails, and a look into their day-to-day operations. None of this is required under city law, but MPD believes in improving the lines of communication and building positive relationships and rapport within the community they serve.
Over the nine-week course my classmates and I learned about a variety of different topics including de-escalation, mental health response, traffic safety, unconscious bias, racial equity, gangs, and specialty units. In the first class, we started with a discussion on the 4th and 5th Amendments. The right to privacy and the right to non-incrimination are at the heart of the personal liberties we cherish in America, and I was impressed to learn that the MPD places such an emphasis on individual rights.
However, other topics we discussed and learned about were not as easy. One such topic was the use of deadly force, which has been a serious conversation and hot-button issue in our community. While each incident must be investigated, analyzed, and ruled upon, internal improvements must always be the end result, which has been one of the goals of the Madison Police Department. Much like the dialogue happening at the national level, at the local level we've been having critical conversations about officer-involved shootings. Our police department continues to listen and reflect on ways it can mend relationships in our community while still working to keep our officers safe.
In many ways, the Madison Police Department is at the forefront of the nation in many aspects: our unconscious and implicit bias trainings were some of the first of their kind; MPD ranks in the top 10 nationally in percent of female officers on our force; our new mental health officers are improving the level of response to mental health crisis by leaps and bounds. The MPD has much to be proud of, and they also know the areas in which they need to improve.
I first ran for office because I know our community can be better. Our officers know this, too, and much like that seesaw on the playground, I think our police department and our officers are working to find that perfect balance. The MPD is made up of people who live next to us; their kids are friends with our kids. We all share a common goal: a safe community that works for all of us. Whether you are a person navigating a mental health crisis, a person of color, or a police officer, everyone has the right to safety and security on our streets and in our homes.
The Citizen Academy opened my eyes to many things: I learned how complex and holistic the job of a police force in a city the size of Madison truly is; I learned many of the behind-the-scenes work our officers do to help our community; I learned how focused the MPD is on constant and continued improvement. I highly encourage everyone to take advantage of the opportunity to participate in the Citizen's Academy. It's free and well worth the evenings spent there. Whether you have questions about our police department, concerns with them, or just want to check it out – we are fortunate to have officers willing to give their time and effort in the name of transparency.
We thank Representative Sargent for attending our Citizen's Academy, asking the difficult questions and for reaching out to us offering this writing to share with the community.
To learn more about the MPD's Citizen's Academy please visit our website: http://www.cityofmadison.com/police/jointeam/academy/