“What I fear most is that I am going to be judged by someone sitting in a chair and take 20 minutes to make a decision on what I only had 2 or 3 seconds to make a decision.”
— Madison Police Captain James Wheeler
Your Humble Squire, confined to three minutes of testimony, was characteristically blunt, if not brutal.
The Common Council’s Subcommittee on Police & Community Relations, the old curmudgeon testified Tuesday evening at city hall, had reached its verdict. Now it was trying to assemble the evidence.
That verdict is that the Madison Police Department is overrun with trigger-happy, racist Popeye Doyles.
To gather such evidence, the Subcommittee, chaired by Ald. Shiva Bidar-Sielaff, picks and chooses where it shall forage. Its five members* have invited the likes of the ACLU, Freedom Inc, Amelia Royko Maurer’s Community Response Team, and State Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison Isthmus. Not exactly the shot and a beer crowd.
When might the subcommittee on police and community listen to, you know, an actual police officer? Especially since it has one sitting at its table at every meeting. Madison Police Captain James Wheeler staffs the subcommittee on behalf of MPD. Wouldn’t it be great if they scheduled Captain Wheeler?
I was thinking Capt. Wheeler has the patience of Job to sit through all the hair-splitting of this committee, which is one of several that sprouted, like creeping charlie, after the March 2015 police shooting, in self defense, of drug abuser Tony T. Robinson Jr.
There is also the Policy & Procedure Review Ad Hoc Committee, which claims several Black Lives Matter and Progressive Dane adherents but not one conservative among its 15 members. That’s the one doing the $400,000 study, and dipping into the snowplow fund to do so.
That’s in addition to the long-standing Public Safety Review committee, before which I spoke Tuesday night. That committee (the questioning was led by true-blue Ald. Paul Skidmore) wondered why the duplication? And why, in any event, was the Bidar-Sielaff committee not broadening its net, say, by inviting the Midvale Heights neighborhood watch group, for instance?
You know, members of the community who respect police? Who rely on them to keep them safe, their neighborhoods congenial?
The Bidar-Sielaff committee met later last night (12-13-16) at the Goodman Center on Waubesa Street. It heard — at great length — from Rep. Taylor, who has crafted a dense fog of statutory language to further regulate police. Back in June, Rep. Taylor castigated the police for subduing a woman with a large knife who had threatened employees at East Towne Mall.
“It looks like excessive force was used against this young woman,” she said then.
‘What I fear most …’
Finally, Tuesday night, Police Captain Wheeler asked to be heard. (He had to ask!) This is what he said:
“My own family asks, ‘Why don’t you shoot them in the leg?’ … I ask the question (back), ‘Is that person shooting at you?’ How good would you be able to shoot if the person was coming at you with a weapon? … Those are the things we sometimes don’t hear, is that context. It makes an officer like me with 25 years in the department somewhat afraid because every situation is different. I hear about Philly I grew up in Philadelphia … a lot of these departments that are on consent decrees. … We have to listen to the other side and we have to put these things in perspective.
“We have to recognize the courts did say you can’t look at these things with 20-20 hindsight. …We don’t know what was in the mind of the officer … within the context of how things actually happen on the street.
“I fear most that I am going to be judged by someone sitting in a chair and take 20 minutes to make a decision on what I only had 2 or 3 seconds to make a decision.
“Sometimes these conversations get to the point where, almost like the cops wanted to do this. We don’t hear about the times where the cops do the things you do a lot of the things are talking about.”
Captain Wheeler mentioned the situation of a man with a gun threatening to shoot on Russet/Balsam Road on the southwest side. That potential tragedy was averted without injury to suspect, police, or bystanders. Madison elected officials, do you copy?
Catch the Captain’s remarks at 1:20 into the podcast.
Blaska’s Bottom Line: The Madison Common Council must quit blaming police for defending themselves from physical attack and for arresting and subduing law breakers. The city’s elected officials are using their bully pulpits to send a corrosive message to a vulnerable population: that the police are the problem and troublemakers are the victims.
* the Subcommittee on Police & Community Relations: Alders Shiva Bidar-Sielaff, Marsha Rummel, Sheri Carter, Denise DeMarb, Rebecca Kemble.