MADISON – The Madison Police Department is ringing in the new year with two new initiatives: one designed to react to the current situation in Wisconsin’s second-largest city and the other to improve community engagement and understanding.
Police Chief Shon Barnes joined Wisconsin’s Afternoon News to give details on the initiatives, which include a new specialized Hate Crime Task Force designed to identify and prevent hate crimes in Madison.
“I’ve received several phone calls from members of our community who, quite frankly, were legitimately afraid for their safety because of things people have said or done,” Barnes said. “And then we had several instances including our most recent vandalism where somebody’s property was damaged.
That incident was a break-in at Dubai Mediterranean Restaurant on State Street in late December, where Islamophobic graffiti was sprayed in the restaurant and police said “substantial damage” was caused by the intruder.
“The Hate Crimes Task Force is just our efforts to problem-solve, to be proactive, to let people know that we take these reported incidents very seriously, to make people aware of any safety threats,” Barnes said.
The task force began operations on January 1st and is set to operate for a 90-day assessment period. Barnes said after that, the department will be reviewing both how well the task force is operating and what the climate in Madison is at that time.
“I chose 90 days to assess whether or not we’re communicating effectively, whether or not we have improved victim service delivery, whether or not people feel safer, if we’re seeing some of the calls for service and incidents go down, and whether or not we need to change our approach,” Barnes said.
Barnes said he’d love nothing more than to disband the task force for the reason that it’s no longer necessary.
MPD is also launching the Madison Proximity Project, which pairs up Madison police officers with community members where the officer shadows the person at their business and then they will participate in a ride-along with the officer.
“I don’t think you can understand people or problems from a distance,” Barnes said.
The first six pairings will take place throughout January. Barnes said all of the participants will then have dinner together, in February, to share what they’ve learned.
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