Madison considers creating a police citizens advisory council

The ordinance establishing the Madison Police Citizens Advisory Council is set to have its first reading on February 8.

Posted: Jan 20, 2021 11:50 PM

The City of Madison could soon join Huntsville in having a committee that will act as conduit between its police department and its residents. 

On Wednesday evening, the city council heard a proposal for the Madison Police Citizens Advisory Council (MPCAC). 

David Little, one of the members of the Huntsville Police Citizens Advisory Council (HPCAC) said he spoke with former Madison Police Chief David Jernigan about the initiative over the summer.

"I talked with Chief Jernigan back in the summer when they first started getting this ball rolling. Obviously COVID has slowed things down, but do know that it's on the agenda there for their city council is good to know," Little said.

The exact language of the ordinance that would create the MPCAC hasn't been released publicly, but it was submitted to the Madison City Council during Wednesday's work session. A first reading of the ordinance is expected during the council's February 8 meeting.

"I've talked with several other communities in the state over the last five, six years that are wanting to stand up their own advisory councils and I think it's a great thing. So, the fact that it's right down the road, literally in the same county is exciting," Little said.

Little said he shared Huntsville's ordinance with them and expected the language to be somewhat similar. But he said since things in the world have changed since 2010 when the HPCAC was formed, the MPCAC might be slightly different.

"I would assume there are some tweaks they are doing. And then in light of everything that's happened in the last year, there might be some additional language that has been added to their ordinance," Little said. 

According to a synopsis of the MPCAC that was discussed on Wednesday, the council would be comprised of nine members: one representing each of the seven council members along with one from the mayor and one from the police chief. 

Members have to be at least 18-years-old to participate and they have to be "willing to commit to attending training sessions, attending committee meetings and fielding questions from fellow residents," according to the presentation Wednesday night.

The council is designed to improve relations between Madison Police and the public through increased transparency. During the council meeting Major John Stringer also added that it's a way for the public to bring certain things to the attention of the Chief of Police and the mayor before they become larger issues.

The MPCAC is also designed to be able to offer advise to Madison Police when it comes to the need for "additional training in areas such as diversity, community policing procedural justice and crisis intervention training." Thanks to sunshine laws in the state, it's meetings would generally be open to the public. 

A spokesperson for the City of Madison said the process by which those recommendations are created has not be established, but said that they can pass a resolution onto the city council, which would be taken into consideration.

As far as incidents like officer-involved shootings, the spokesperson said the MPCAC would likely not be involved since it doesn't have an investigatory role. 

Little said at the end of the day, people like him get involved with councils like these because they want to play a role in fostering a better community relationship between the police and the rest of the community as well as highlight some of the positive changes made in the department.

"I think it's important to keep aware that this is a group of citizens that care about their community and care about their police department equally. They realize they're in the middle and they want to make the community better, they want to make the police department better. They want to bring that citizens' perspective to things that police department's doing to try and make themselves better," Little said.

"I know Huntsville is constantly evaluating how they do things, from a routine traffic stop to a major incident, and I would assume Madison is doing the same type of work, but they know they can always do better."

Major Stringer confirmed on Wednesday that members of the MPCAC won't be current or former members of the police department or city employees. 

During the question and answer portion of the discussion on Wednesday, Council President Pro Tempore Maura Wroblewski proposed that immediate family members of police and city employees also be barred from seeking a position on the council to further prevent a conflict of interest. 

Assuming the council wants to move forward with the initiative, after its introduction on February 8, the council would likely vote on it on February 22. After that applications would be taken through the city clerk's office and would be reviewed during March.

Members would then be appointed on March 22, followed by training and selection of general meeting times and topics.

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