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Madison police chief says he's working toward change

Published On: Jul 16 2013 10:33:06 PM CDT   Updated On: Jul 17 2013 02:53:33 PM CDT

MADISON, Wis. -

A long table sat in the front of a Wil-Mar Neighborhood Center room. At that table sat a wide array of people, all with perspective to share on the fatal shooting that killed Paul Heenan last November.

That included mental health experts, 911 dispatch workers, community members, the district attorney and police.

"This by far has been the most trying time in my life as a police professional," Madison Police Chief Noble Wray said.

At the far end of the table, Wray was still center of attention. He explained to the crowd how tough the last eight months have been on the department and the community.

"I've got to balance both internal and external issues here," Wray said. "So I would hope we would be able to come at what I would refer to as understanding each other from each other's perspective a bit more, and that's where trust is garnered."

This was the second meeting of the Community Response Team, a group of neighbors and friends concerned about Officer Stephen Heimsness pulling the trigger on Heenan. The CRT is urging the Madison Police Department and other agencies to change policies, explore other training methods and protocol, and increase citizen oversight of the force, among other things.

Wray said part of his involvement in the meeting is to explore how to rebuild trust.

"At times, we have those incidents that challenge our trust," Wray said. "And we have to be committed to rolling up our sleeves and working at it."

The panel spoke 15 days after the announcement of Heimness's resignation. Wray filed a complaint to fire him after uncovering inappropriate messages Heimsness made on department computers, among other allegations.

Wray revoked that complaint to the Police and Fire Commission when Heimsness agreed to leave the force this coming November. Heimsness applied for state assistance for post traumatic stress disorder stemming from the shooting.

Despite the numerous counts he brought against Heimsness, Wray maintains that Heimsness was acting within police policy when he shot and killed Heenan.

"There is a nexus between the internal investigation and the officer involved shooting, and that is those MDC messages grew out of the officer involved shooting. But everything that happened that night still from an objective standpoint still took place," Wray said. "And I know those comments were terrible comments, but they don't change the fact scenario for what changed that night."

CRT leader Jean Papalia used to patrol the Williamson Street neighborhoods. The retired officer has noticed a change in the neighbors' comfort with officers.

"I think the part that's missing is the connectedness with the police and that relationship was lost or dropped and it needs a bit of nourishing," Papalia said.

Papalia said she's confident that the discussions people are having with police and city officials will create change.

"Anything and everything is up for change. I know great tragedies that have happened and have spurred changes in policies and training," Papalia said. "But they have to be thoughtful and they can't be reactive."

Dane County District Attorney Ishmael Ozanne was also sitting on the panel. He said he had no definitive plans to revisit the shooting investigation, but mentioned he looks over anything that comes through his office.

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