Blacks for Political and Social Action of Dane County (BPSADC) and Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity co-hosted a virtual public welcome for the City of Madison’s newly appointed Chief of Police, Dr. Shon Barnes on Monday.
“We should understand that the fundamental principle of policing is to protect the constitutional rights of everyone, especially the right to life,” Barnes said.
Barnes, sworn into office Monday morning, plans to prioritize community engagement and crime prevention. He began his career in law enforcement in 2000 with the Greensboro Police Department where he would eventually serve as captain. Barnes later worked as the Director of Training and Professional Development for the Civilian Office of Police Accountability in Chicago.
In 2014, Barnes enrolled in the Leadership Studies PhD program at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University. His dissertation interests include improving Police-Community Relations.
BPSADC Vice President Kirbie Mack cited Barnes’ track record for reducing the number of times police use force by 50 percent in Greensboro as captain.
“Right now the Madison police department needs a leader who will listen. We need a leader who understands the issues of the Black community,” Representative Shelia Stubbs said.
She leads the Legislative Black Caucus and is co-chair of the Speaker’s Task Force on Racial Disparities alongside Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke. This task force focuses on ways to address racial disparities, educational opportunities, public safety and law enforcement policies and standards.
Stubbs said Madison needs a leader who is not afraid to hold officers accountable. She hopes Barnes will serve as both a leader for the city and the state.
Barnes seemed open to that idea.
“I am concerned that there may be employees, not just here but across the country, that are not fit for law enforcement,” he said.
“I truly believe we will be able to transform policing in Madison and be a model for the nation,” president & CEO of the Urban League of Greater Madison Reuben Anthony said.
He also said it’s important to have a police chief that is culturally sensitive. Anthony would like to see consistent treatment of all residents by law enforcement officers in Madison.
Community leaders encouraged Barnes to reach out to them as a resource. Others, such as Chair of the Police Civilian Oversight Committee Keetra Burnette and Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne expressed their excitement to work with the new chief.
“We will tell you when we think you’re wrong. We are not shy folks in Madison, however, we will stand behind you,” Madison Common Council President Sheri Carter told Barnes.
The chief explained crime prevention should be everyone’s responsibility, not just the police. He said too much emphasis is placed on the criminal justice system rather than social services and mentorship. Barnes said police must learn to see people as who they are and not for their circumstances.
“Policing in Madison has been a challenge in recent years,” Anthony said. “One of the things we want is equal justice, not just in Madison but across the nation.”