Photo by diegoparra on Pixabay.
Today, a legislative committee heard public input on nine bills that would reform policing in Wisconsin.
The proposals are the product of months of consideration by a racial disparity and police reform task force.
That task force was announced last August by top legislative Republican, Robin Vos. Vos announced the task force after the legislature failed to consider a slate of bills proposed by Democrats, the Legislative Black Caucus, and Governor Tony Evers.
And the bipartisan task force, which is charged with examining proposals on racial disparities, educational opportunities, public safety and police practices was formed amid a summer of racial justice protests, calls to defund the police, and the police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and in Wisconsin, the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha.
More than half a year later, bills produced by the legislative task force are ready for public input.
At a public hearing today from an assembly committee on criminal justice and public safety, the bills received endorsement from law enforcement. But opponents say the bills don’t go far enough.
Among other things, the bills would make it easier to expunge criminal records. They’d expand training and screening for law enforcement, including police officers in schools. And they would provide funding for local crisis services as well as police body cameras.
- Make it easier for people with criminal records to have them expunged.
- Mandate that anyone placed on parole in another state who then moves Wisconsin has to provide a DNA sample to crime laboratories in the state.
- Requires the Wisconsin Department of Justice (or DOJ) to collect data on the use of no-knock warrants.
- Requires the DOJ to develop standards and a training program for School Resource Officers, and keep a database of those officers.
- Requires all aspiring full-time law enforcement officials to undergo a psychological evaluation prior to entering into the job.
- Require training for officers in police pursuit, handgun operation, and crisis management.
- Allows counties and municipalities to receive up to $100,000 grants from the state Department of Health Services to establish and expand crisis services.
- Requires law enforcement agencies to adopt written policies requiring drug tests after an officer either harms someone else or fires a gun at a person.
- Requires the DOJ to give grants to law enforcement agencies so they can buy body cameras for patrol officers.
Perhaps the most significant change, though, is a proposal to study the use of no-knock search warrants. That’s a warrant that allows police officers to enter a residence without announcing their presence. Criticism of no-knock warrants reached a peak last year, when Louisville police officers using such a warrant shot and killed Breonna Taylor.
Under the proposal, the Department of Justice would be required to gather information from law enforcement across Wisconsin and conduct an annual review on their use.
One critic at today’s hearing was Rebecca Burrell. She says that studying no-knock warrants doesn’t go far enough.
“The first that we asked the task force to look into: No-knocks may only ever be used if someone’s life is in imminent danger, such as a hostage situation, kidnapping, etc,” said Burrell. “Number two: Required info for no-knock applications must prove that there is an imminent danger threat to someone’s life. Three: Required information for all warrants. That includes are there disabled people here, are there children people here.”
A review from local outlet Forward Lookout finds that in 2019, the Madison Police Department used no knock warrants at least 37 times. Locally, activist groups such as Impact Demand in Madison have listed a ban on no-knock warrants as a main demand during protests. The Dane County Board of Supervisors, meanwhile, are looking this spring to oppose the use of no-knock warrants by the Dane County Sheriff’s Office.
Police officers, though, say sometimes no-knock warrants are necessary. Patrick Mitchell is with the West Allis Police Department, and also spoke at today’s hearing.
“I can tell you from all of the warrants that I have done, if we can successfully defeat your door very quickly, and get into your house, I can do so before you have an opportunity to a) arm yourself and b) formulate a plan about what you would like to do to me and the fellow members of my team,” said Mitchell. “So that is the benefit of a no-knock. Yes, they’re dangerous, but we in law enforcement have to have a way to go after suspects who are engaged in very serious crimes and obtain evidence and keep ourselves safe, as well as the citizens in that immediate area.”
However, Milwaukee activist Kamila Ahmed said that no-knock warrants were dangerous, not just for residents, but also for the officers executing the warrant
“It is not only dangerous for the officers in the action of doing those no-knock warrants, it’s also dangerous for members of this community,” said Ahmed. “A lot of people own guns. If somebody breaking in my house, I’m shooting first and asking questions later.”
The proposals have not been approved by either the Senate or Assembly. If they pass in the state legislature, they would head to Governor Evers’ desk.