Madison Police Chief Noble Wray knows his department has some trust-building to do in the wake of a fatal officer-involved shooting.
During a press conference this week on the Nov. 9 incident, in which Officer Steven Heimsness shot and killed Madison resident Paul Heenan on South Baldwin Street, Wray said Madison police must work on "supporting the neighborhood from a healing standpoint."
While Wray did not identify any specific strategies, he acknowledged that the community's trust in law enforcement is "very fragile."
To maintain that trust, the department has held private, informal meetings where neighbors could speak with police and Ald. Marsha Rummel, says Capt. Carl Gloede, who oversees Madison's central police district. That district includes Heenan's near-east side neighborhood, where he was killed.
The goal of these meetings included helping witnesses gain access to support services through Dane County's Victim Witness Unit, and answering residents' questions about the shooting.
But police were limited in what they could share about the incident while the department's internal investigation and a Dane County District Attorney inquiry were under way. The department's report released Wednesday determined that Heimsness was justified in his use of deadly force.
Now that the report has been released, Gloede is working with Rummel to set up additional community meetings. (He says no specific dates have been set yet.)
"Historically, in the cases of officer-involved shootings, the DA and then our internal reviews have tended to be fairly quick, within a week," Gloede says. The review of the Heenan shooting, however, took nearly two months. "It was a tap dance as far as being able to answer questions as thoroughly as we could" while the investigation was ongoing, he adds.
While acknowledging that the shooting has shaken some residents' trust in their police force, Gloede says he wants to keep an open dialogue. He also notes that his district is "blessed to have few of these critical incidents that drive separation between police and the community."
But some family, friends and neighbors of Heenan are not satisfied with the police response to the shooting. A group that includes Heenan family members has called for Heimsness to be fired and for Madison police to establish a citizen-review process. In a press release announcing a Saturday protest at the City-County Building, this group continued to refer to the shooting as a "murder."
On Facebook, some of Heenan's fellow musicians reacted with disgust as local TV news channels played audio of a 911 call that includes the three gunshots that killed Heenan. But for perhaps the first time, musicians and music fans began to post support on Facebook for Heimsness, who was also an active presence on the local music scene. They acknowledged that Heenan's death was tragic, but argued that did not make Heimsness a murderer.
Yet the community is clearly shaken. One Willy Street business owner joked to a customer Wednesday night that he wouldn't call Madison police any time soon, for fear he would be "shot in the face."
"Ironically, [officer-involved shootings] are even more profound in communities where they are rare occurrences, such as in Madison," says Michael S. Scott, a clinical professor at the University of Wisconsin Law School who is a former Madison police officer and co-author of a 1992 reference book on police shootings, Deadly Force: What We Know.
Scott says he is confident Madison police will maintain a "generally good relationship" with the community. He argues that the department is more transparent than many other police agencies, noting it posts its entire policy manual online and has disciplined officers for excessive use of force. Former Madison police chief David Couper, who is also a retired minister, was also brought in by residents to counsel neighbors in small groups after the Heenan shooting.
Despite that, Scott says police agencies can only do so much when it comes to the emotional impacts of such an event.
"[It is] not entirely clear that the police are the best ones to lead the emotional part of it," Scott says. "They obviously are going to be perceived as having a conflict of interest in this."
Gloede agrees. "We're not trained mental-health professionals," he adds, though police officials do try to learn from the mental-health professionals they've worked with. "We kind of stick to our training experience and factual knowledge."
Scott says police might be better off providing information to citizens, whether through community meetings, the press or citizen-police-academy trainings. He cites as a good example a video the Eugene, Oregon police department released in 2011 to explain "Hollywood vs. reality" in officer-involved shootings. The video emphasizes how officers are trained to handle violent situations and how quickly those things happen.
That's exactly the kind of education that Madison police are now having to do, but in a heated context, as community members mourn a well-liked resident's death at the hands of a well-liked beat cop.
[Editor's note: This article was corrected to reflect that residents brought in former Madison Police Chief David Couper to counsel neighbors.]