Four months into Wisconsin’s legislative session, and more than half a year after its initial inception, Wisconsin’s bipartisan task force on racial disparities is floating overhauls to police use of force policies.
The task force’s 18 recommendations, released today, are not yet state law. They still need to be taken up by lawmakers and drafted into formal bills. But, speaking at a meeting of the group yesterday, Republican Rep. Jim Steineke (R-Kaukauna), the task force’s co-chair, expressed optimism about the proposals’ future.
“Even though we can’t make any guarantees about what’s going to happen in the senate, I am optimistic about the chances of what we’re advancing here. Because we’re all unified, for the most part,” he said.
Notably, task force members recommend legislation that would require police to intervene when they see other officers using excessive force.
That provision comes the day after a Minnesota jury’s decision to convict Derek Chauvin of the murder of George Floyd. During that case, three other Minneapolis police officers failed to intervene during the more than eight minutes Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck.
The task force also recommends, among other things, providing protection to police whistleblowers and requiring body cameras to be worn by all active duty patrol officers.
That last proposal has been a matter of hot debate here in Madison — as community members, city leaders and Madison Police Department officials have spent years going back and forth on the feasibility of body cameras.
Grant programs for Crisis Response Teams are also included in the group’s report. Madison is poised to start a pilot crisis response team this summer. The program sends mental health first responders, rather than armed police officers from the Madison Police Department, to some calls for service.
The task force’s report stops short on a few areas. While its members recommend collecting data on no-knock warrants, the task force does not recommend outlawing the controversial practice. Banning no-knock warrants has been a major platform of protesters, and Governor Tony Evers proposed legislation last year to end their use.
According to the Dane County sheriff’s office, deputies served eleven no-knock warrants last year. In 2019 the Madison Police Department obtained 37 no-knock warrants, according to documents obtained last September by Forward Lookout.
The task force also recommends new training policies for police in schools, but did not call for the outright abolition of school resource officers.
Also included is a proposal banning choke holds in most cases, with exemptions in situations that are considered life-threatening or require self-defense. That recommendation falls in line with the Madison Police Department’s existing policies on choke holds.
The task force is composed of lawmakers, law enforcement officials and representatives of civil rights groups. It was initially announced by Republican State Assembly Speaker Robin Vos last August, after Republican lawmakers punted a special legislative session on police use of force policies.
One of the group’s leaders — Republican Rep. Jim Steineke — attracted some controversy earlier this year, after a private email surfaced in which he referred to his role on the task force as a “political loser.”
The task force originally set a deadline of January for their proposals, coinciding with the start of Wisconsin’s 2021 legislative session.
Rep. Shelia Stubbs (D-Madison), the task force’s other co-chair, said that the extra four months were necessary for drafting the proposals — as it gave the group time to host six additional public input and information meetings.
“It took us so long because it took us time,” Stubbs said. “This is not the end of the story. This is just the beginning and this legislation is not going to be the only legislation — and it’s not going to fix racial disparities. It’s just a framework.”
Earlier today, just a few hours after the task force released their report, Governor Evers issued an executive order requiring all state law enforcement agencies to review and update their use of force policies — mirroring some of the task force’s proposals .
Evers’ order directs state-managed law enforcement to only use deadly force as a last resort, use the least amount of force necessary during confrontations, and grants protections for whistleblowers. The order includes the state patrol, capitol police and the law enforcement wing of the Department of Natural Resources.
The task force’s recommendations now head to the state Assembly. They’ll also need to be passed by the state Senate, and signed by Governor Evers, to become law.
(PHOTO: WORT News / Flickr)