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Madison police chief 'open' to outside review of internal investigations

Published On: Jan 09 2013 10:37:16 PM CST
Updated On: Jan 10 2013 07:39:40 AM CST
Noble Wray press conference

Madison Police Chief Noble Wray press conference

MADISON, Wis. -

Madison Police Chief Noble Wray, at a Wednesday news conference where he cleared an officer who fatally shot an unarmed man of wrongdoing, said he was "open" to conducting internal investigations differently.

Wray said he has considered bringing in the Dane County Sheriff's Office for previous incidents, but said he hadn't done so because bringing in outside agencies would slow down the investigation.

Wray said Officer Steve Heimsness acted within department guidelines when he shot and killed Paul Heenan on the city's near east side Nov. 9.

"I believe that we can perform a fair and impartial officer-involved investigation," Wray said. "Having said that, I do recognize the public's interest in a check and balance."

Dan Frei, president of the Madison police officers' union, said outside review was not needed in the city because the department has proven to be transparent.

For example, it releases details on accusations of wrongdoing and whether an officer is found to have done something wrong, Frei said.

A citizen review board, which some other cities use, isn't feasible because the average person lacks the background knowledge on police use-of-force situations, he said.

"How do you judge police use of force if you don't have that level of background knowledge and training?" Frei said.

Knoxville, Tenn., uses a seven-member citizen review panel to audit police internal investigations, according to the city's website. The panel also has subpoena power.

A police auditor in Eugene, Ore., responds to the scene of an officer-involved shooting, monitors the investigation and ultimately reviews the work of police.

In Boise, Idaho, a community ombudsman audits internal investigations to "promote public confidence in the professionalism and accountability" of Boise's police department, according to the office's website.

Des Moines, Iowa, police said local detectives work with state investigators from the beginning after an officer-involved shooting. A grand jury is required on all fatal shootings, as it is in Omaha, Neb., but not in Madison.

"Wisconsin would do itself a great service by catching up with the rest of the nation in that regard," said Nathan Royko Maurer, Heenan's former roommate.

Royko Maurer said police should bring in law enforcement professionals and civil rights experts to serve on a panel.

"It would be something that, if done correctly, would ensure the credibility that the community deserves and the police department deserves," he said.

No matter who conducts the investigation, the vast majority of officer-involved shootings nationwide are found to be justified, Frei said.

Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne, who cleared Heimsness of criminal liability Dec. 27, said on Sunday he felt comfortable with the internal investigation process.

Ozanne said he has had conversations with police before about the "appearance" of conducting internal investigations.

"If you do your investigation, people are going to ask the question," he said. "I'm not saying (police) shouldn't do their investigation, and I'm not saying they're not the best trained to do the investigation."

Wray said his department, as the state's second-largest law enforcement agency, had the most experience and resources to put on such investigations.

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