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‘I am ready:’ Madison’s new police chief focuses on moving city forward

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shon barnes swearing in
Shon Barnes sworn in as chief of Madison Police Department
Shon Barnes

MADISON (WKOW) -- Madison's new police chief got his badge Monday and says he plans to get right to work connecting with the community.

Chief Shon Barnes was sworn in Monday morning with his family by his side, taking over the department with a new focus on moving forward.

"I am ready, I am willing and I am flat out eager to begin this journey with you, all of you together," he said in a speech after the ceremony.

Barnes, who left a job in the Chicago Police Department's accountability office, takes over more than a year after Mike Koval stepped down as chief of Madison Police Department, and in the middle of a tumultuous few years of community distrust in police.

He says he wants the people of Madison to get to know him as a leader, as someone who will listen to their concerns.

"I really believe in giving everyone a voice so that we can move forward and get past some of our differences," he told 27 News in an interview during his first day on the job.

Barnes' first goal as chief will be to deliver an assessment of what's working and what needs improvement in the department. He wants to look at advancements in technology that could be adopted and whether officer placement needs to change. Plus, he wants to encourage officers to get to know their community even better.

His background in problem-oriented policing will be beneficial to Madison, he says. MPD was one of the first to implement this strategy, which focuses on analyzing community problems to develop solutions to respond.

At the swearing in ceremony Monday, Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway said she hopes Barnes' experience using data to assess crime will keep Madison safer.

"He regularly brings data together with community ingenuity to create new solutions," she said.

Critics say data-driven policing can be problematic, leading to more disparities by concentrating response to certain areas. Transparency has also been questioned.

Barnes says he plans to use data to find other ways to solve problems that lead to crime, which may include resources outside of MPD, like social services.

"No piece of data alone should ever be used to make a police decision. And I think where you see police departments relying solely on data, you see those disparities increase. This police department will not do that. We will have data, it will inform us, but the data will not drive us. It won't drive our decision-making. We'll do that by community collaboration," he said.

Barnes promised to be transparent with the community when MPD finds an issue, talking through solutions together. He said if data is collected appropriately with consideration to the people involved, it can be a success.

The community has been pushing for more focus on the problems leading to crime, including some calls to defund the police department, pay for more social services and reduce the criminal justice system.

Barnes says he hopes to have more conversations on alternatives to arrest and reimagining the system.

"When people talk about defunding the police and other things of that nature, I understand their frustration. They're looking at a criminal justice system that they don't believe works fairly for everyone. And that's very concerning to me. And so we need to figure out how we can bridge that gap, but we can't do it divided. We have to do it together," he said.

His focus will also be on the officers and staff working at MPD, to make sure their wellness is paramount.

"That's something that this police department has always done, but I want to make sure that it's a priority. Because when we feel good, when we're doing well, we can go out we can serve the community better," he told 27 News.

Barnes is hoping outreach can lead to new initiatives and a better relationship with the community.

"My hope and my goal is that six months, a year from now, when we sit back down again we'll be talking about how we built trust and not what we need to do to build trust," he said.

Chief Barnes has already started making connections with community groups. He's asking police leaders to put together community meetings in each district to talk about crime prevention. Plus, he wants to start a group where teenagers can share their opinions on the direction of the department.

Jennifer Kliese

Weekend Anchor and Reporter, 27 News

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