Shon Barnes sworn in as new Madison police chief

By: - February 1, 2021 4:28 pm
Chief Barnes Madison Police

Dr. Shon Barnes was sworn in as Madison’s new police chief on Monday. (Madison Police Department)

Dr. Shon Barnes was sworn in as Madison’s 30th police chief Monday morning, taking control of a department attempting to respond to a vocal activist community pushing for reforms and a recent increase in violent crime. 

Barnes takes over for acting chief Vic Wahl, who filled the position after chief Michael Koval abruptly retired in 2019 over a budget disagreement with Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway after he spent five years on the job. 

Barnes comes to Madison from Chicago’s Civilian Office of Police Accountability (COPA), where he served briefly as director of training and professional development. Prior to joining COPA in the fall of 2020, Barnes spent three years as deputy chief of police in Salisbury, N.C.. He spent most of his career in the Greensboro, N.C. police department, reaching the rank of captain.

Shon Barnes
Dr. Shon Barnes is sworn in as the 30th chief of the Madison Police Department. (City of Madison)

“I am humbled and excited to begin the next chapter in the great history of the Madison Police Department,” Barnes said in a statement. “Please accept my sincere gratitude to the Police and Fire Commission and the Madison community for entrusting me with your public safety. It has been my dream to improve the lives of a diverse community by making a significant contribution to policing. My plan is to create culture within the Madison Police Department that prioritizes fairness, community inclusion, and ethical policing. On February 1, 2021 it will be my honor and privilege to join the Madison community and Madison Police Department as your next Chief of Police.” 

Barnes was hired by the city’s Police and Fire Commission over the vehement objections of some community members, who felt left out of the hiring process. The PFC released pre-recorded interviews with the four finalists for the job and permitted public comment in a few meetings, but did not allow community members to directly ask questions of the candidates — a departure from the method used in other cities, including Milwaukee. 


Much of the criticism of the city’s police department has centered around a lack of input from the community, which culminated in the creation of a civilian oversight board last year. That board and other members of the community pushed for the hiring of Ramon Batista, another finalist for the job. 

A virtual welcome reception for Barnes will be held Monday evening. The event is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m.

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Henry Redman
Henry Redman

Henry Redman is a staff reporter for the Wisconsin Examiner who focuses on covering Wisconsin's towns and rural areas. He previously covered crime and courts at the Daily Jefferson County Union. A lifelong Midwesterner, he was born in Cleveland, Ohio and graduated from Loyola University Chicago with a degree in journalism in May 2019.