Madison Police Chief John Wallace fields questions during a presentation to City Council on Tuesday on Mayor Bob Courtney’s Mobilize Madison community safety initiative. (Madison Courier photo by Mark Campbell)
Madison Police Chief John Wallace fields questions during a presentation to City Council on Tuesday on Mayor Bob Courtney’s Mobilize Madison community safety initiative. (Madison Courier photo by Mark Campbell)
Mayor Bob Courtney thinks Madison is one of the safest communities in Indiana — and has one of the best police departments as well — but that doesn’t mean the community wouldn’t benefit from an across-the-board review of public safety policies and procedures, especially during a time when law enforcement is facing more scrutiny than ever in communities across the nation.

On Tuesday Courtney launched a new community safety initiative — a blanket study of law enforcement and public safety throughout the city similar to his previous initiatives focusing on the parks system and economic development and historic preservation — that over the next few months will scrutinize all aspects of services to identify not so much what is wrong, but what can be done better.

Called Mobilize Madison, the proposal will be an expansion of some of the changes already being implemented, which have included restructuring salaries to better attract and retain police officers, revitalization of blighted neighborhoods to force out crime, interlocal agreements with Jefferson County to better address the community’s drug problems and the implementation of body cams for all officers to provide transparency.

In a recurring theme during Courtney’s first six months of his first term in office, the city will look at policies, procedures and past results and compile data that can then be used to decide strategies for improvement.

Madison Police Chief John Wallace said he was looking forward to the process because it will help his department further review some of the issues he’s been evaluating since taking over as chief in February. Wallace said Madison Police, unlike departments in some U.S. communities, receives strong support from its community. Undergoing a thorough review of policies and procedures and then implementing any changes found necessary should help foster an even better relationship, he said.

To expedite and diversify the process, Courtney proposed creating a Policy and Procedures Steering Committee to be chaired by Wallace but also include a member of the police department, the mayor’s office, the city’s Commission on Human Relations, City Council and a citizen member. He anticipates the process taking about four months to complete at which time policies and procedures can be updated and implemented. The process can then be an ongoing effort as needed.

Courtney said areas to be scrutinized will cover a wide range, from how suspects are treated in custody to the way evidence is processed and controlled during investigations. The panel will look at the use of force — both lethal and non-lethal — and review policies and procedures for roadblocks, emergency driving and the pursuit of suspects who refuse to stop.

Both Courtney and Wallace agreed that a review of the department’s pursuit policy is especially timely in the wake of last January’s pursuit that ended in the suspect crashing his vehicle and the deaths of two teenage passengers near Madison. The incident took place prior to Wallace’s hiring as chief, but both Courtney and Wallace said internal reviews of the incident indicate that the officers all performed properly. Even so, they said the policy should still be reviewed along with many other scenarios officers are likely to face at some point on the job.

“Overall, the review of our current policies and procedures were fine but there were several areas we can improve upon and now is the time to accelerate progress and compliment the results that Chief John Wallace has already accomplished,” Courtney said. “We believe forming a more diverse group will benefit the community overall. Improved policies will improve training.”

Courtney said by proactively studying policies and procedures provides transparency to citizens and both the public and police can better understand how situations are likely to be handled and what support the city can and will provide.

Part of the process has already begun with some of the changes already implemented by the police department. Two new patrolmen are being hired to expand the force, an officer will be assigned to full-time duties as evidence clerk and another officer has been promoted to detective to give the department enough lead investigators to prevent detectives from being overworked and burned out, and lead to more cases getting solved and more quickly. That’s already helped the department clear some of its outstanding caseload and refocus on crime prevention and investigation.

“We have closed out over 2,000 stale cases,” Courtney noted. “We are hiring a full-time evidence clerk so our detectives can spend their time investigating cases. It’s part of a broader strategy to make Madison the safest community in the state of Indiana.

“You wouldn’t believe all that Chief Wallace has accomplished. He’s been here just four months but there’s so much that he’s accomplished already,” he added, noting that the purpose of Mobilize Madison is to allow police to do even more.