When I took the Madison job in 1972, I felt that I had a clear mandate from the police commission to be a peacemaker; to move the city away from a continuing conflict with the students at the nearby University of Wisconsin. The issue was whether or not “petitioning the government” was going to be permitted by the city or not.
I predict the challenge of the proper response to, and handling of, public protest will continue to challenge our nation’s police. After all, are not some state legislators proposing limits on peaceful protest? Even proposing that the organizers be billed for police services?
I had studied the law and the First Amendment makes it clear that government shall not get in the way of citizens who publicly assemble to voice their grievances. Specifically, not “interfering with the right to peaceably assemble or prohibiting the petitioning for a governmental redress of grievances.”
One of my first peacekeeping efforts didn’t turn out very well for me. It went well for the protesters — there was no violence and property damage — but with many of the cops on my new department it began a long and protracted internal battle. To me, it came to symbolize the two large pictures I hung in my office on the day I arrived in Madison — Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. (“No man is free until all men are free!”) and Mahatma Gandhi (“In a gentle way you can shake the world!”).
In my Arrested Development I write:
” Just about everyone in the city and the police department came to know the two very large pictures on the wall of my office. They stayed there for my entire twenty-year tenure. They were 24-by-36-inch pictures of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi… They continued to be two important office companions during my life in Madison—reminding me about freedom and the practice of nonviolence.
“But when I showed up at a vigil for peace in Vietnam one evening in the city and was photographed holding a candle in my hand after the peace march was breaking up, another firestorm broke out when the picture appeared on the front page of the morning newspaper. Again, some people related to it and expected this of their police chief, while others did not. (Later, it became the subject of one of the charges leveled against me.)
“At first, I couldn’t understand the controversy among my officers. I was a cop; they were cops. Why weren’t they supporting me? I was their chief! The proposals I was making and the vision I was casting would make their job better, lead to more respect for them from the community, and even put more money in their pockets through an educational incentive plan. When I had been the chief in Burnsville, I hadn’t gotten that kind of resistance and we’d made greater, and quicker, strides forward. Burnsville officers and I had agreed we would work together to make Burnsville a great department and all of us would benefit. Why wasn’t this happening in Madison? Looking back, when I was in Burnsville, I never felt I was an outsider—after all, I was cop just like the rest of them even though I came from the Minneapolis department. But in Madison, things were different. I was beginning to feel like an outsider, and it didn’t feel very good.”
When I showed up with my family at the summer police picnic, we were shunned. Hardly anyone would speak to us… Such were things at first in Madison. I soon began to realize that my tenure was not going to be made solid by senior members of the police department, nor the police union. If I was to survive in this job, it would be because the community supported me and wanted me to stay.
This was the beginning. The battle lines were drawn. It was now a battle of survival. I had new and relatively untested ideas about policing a democracy. Were they (and me) going to survive?
[NOTE: Years later, a man I had hired and promoted, Cameron McLay, took
over the Pittsburgh Police Department. He carried with him a lot of the “Madison Method” of police that involved working closely with protestors to keep the peace and even walking among them. When his photograph, as mine was, appeared online and in the press, a “firestorm” from within the ranks and from some conservative community members was ignited. Leadership ain’t always easy! He served two years in Pittsburgh before resigning.]