Members of the public voiced outrage over the lack of transparency in the election process of the Madison Police Department’s police chief in a virtual Police and Fire Commission meeting Wednesday.
The Commission held the meeting the same day the PFC released interview recordings with the four police chief candidates — Shon Barnes, Ramon Batista Jr., Christopher Davis and Larry Scirotto.
Speakers voiced concern over the police chief selection process continuing without enough time for the public to develop opinions. Multiple speakers made claims during the public comment that the PFC created barriers to prevent community participation in the process and accused the PFC of ignoring public input with tactics such as short notices of meeting schedules.
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Community member Shadayra Kilfoy-Flores said she was disappointed in the lack of transparency from the PFC during the meeting.
“It’s disappointing to have an ineffective body, who is not listening to the citizens, who has this much power,” Kilfoy-Flores said.
MPF Policy and Procedure Review Ad Hoc Committee member Gregory Gelembiuk said he believed the PFC chose to ignore the recommendations by different city bodies, including the Ad Hoc Committee.
In contrast to the Madison PFC’s current proceedings, Gelembiuk said many cities across the nation observe community questioning of finalists.
“The deputy director of the Milwaukee ACLU was shocked that Madison PFC didn’t do [open interviews],” Gelembiuk said. “She had just observed six hours of interviews that were fully open and asked questions in the Milwaukee one. She thought she had just missed the Madison one.”
Other community members questioned the exclusion of public participation.
Community member Mia Maysack said the consequent release of the interviews only after they have been completed and edited denies the community its rightful opportunity to be part of a conversation that impacts them directly.
“I ask why the process in itself has seemingly been so secretive. We are essentially the last to know about how these things work,” Maysack said.
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Speakers at the conference also voiced to the PFC what qualifications they’re looking for in a police chief.
Founding member of the Madison Organizing in Strength, Equality and Solidarity’s Public Safety Task Force and co-chair of the MOSES Racial Justice for All Children task force Barbie Jackson said they are disappointed in the lack of community engagement with the screening and selection of final candidates.
Jackson said a person of color is imperative to correct the agency’s flaws and aid in ending the culture of racism and the inappropriate use of force.
Founding member of the MOSES Public Safety Task Force Tina Hogle echoed Jackson’s comments, calling on the city to use the selection as an opportunity to change the department’s current course.
“We recommend that any candidates for police chief have the leadership skills and motivation to move the Madison police department to become an organization which does not tolerate abuse or intimidation of people of color and does not shield officers from the consequences of their actions,” Hogle said.
Both Hogle and Jackson advocated for Batista, noting that they thought he would be best fit for the position.
There was also strong opposition towards the selection of Oregon Deputy Chief Davis as a finalist. Davis had a role in how Portland police responded to unrest this past summer and was involved in a 2001 fatal police shooting of a civilian, according to the Wisconsin State Journal. He was exonerated in the shooting.
The PFC will hear more public comments at its regular meeting Dec. 14.