Minneapolis

Key Wisconsin policing use of force bill in jeopardy

2021-06-16 19:00:02 –

MADISON, Wis. — The Wisconsin Assembly failed to vote Wednesday as scheduled on a bill that would set a statewide use of force policy for police, and offer protections for officers who report abuses, due to objections from the Milwaukee police union and despite winning broad bipartisan support in the Senate.

The measure was the only one out of a dozen policing measures that failed to pass the Assembly on a day when lawmakers praised bipartisan efforts to address concerns about racial justice and how law enforcement interacts with minority populations.

The Assembly sent a bill to Democratic Gov. Tony Evers that bans the use of chokeholds, except in self defense, and requires the reporting of incidents when use of force was used.

Republican Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke, who co-sponsored the bill that failed to pass, said he was working with the Milwaukee Police Association to address their concerns and was confident the measure would be voted on at a later date.

“Today was not the end of the process,” Steineke said. “If it was, then yeah, I would be disappointed.

The bill, which the Senate passed last week 30-2, creates a statewide use-of-force standard and a duty to report and a duty to intervene in certain situations in which a law enforcement officer observes another officer failing to comply with the statewide use-of-force standard.

It makes it a misdemeanor for a police officer who intentionally fails to report noncompliant use of force or who fails to intervene to stop such use of force. It also provides whistleblower protections to officers who report when another officer may have violated use of force policies.

One issue that Steineke said the police union had was when it would take effect. He said the MPA wanted to delay the start date to give them more time to train officers on the changes.

The police union did not immediately return a message seeking comment.

Other bills the Assembly passed Wednesday on bipartisan voice votes would require police departments to report information about how often no-knock warrants are authorized and executed; create statewide standards and require training for police officers stationed in schools; require prospective police officers to pass a psychological exam before being hired; and mandate four hours of crisis management training for police officers every two years designed to help de-escalate situations involving people with mental illness.

All of those bills now go to the Senate.

The Assembly sent Evers a bill banning chokeholds, except in cases of self-defense or when the officer felt their life was in danger. Some, including Evers last year, had called for an outright ban on chokeholds.

Democratic Rep. Shelia Stubbs, who is Black, and Steineke, who is white, praised the bipartisan work of the task force they led and the bills that grew out of it. Steineke acknowledged that some wanted the bills to go farther, while others thought they weren’t doing enough.

“It’s a good start,” Steineke said. “It’s not too often in this body we’re able to bring together very different viewpoints on a single topic and find consensus on those issues.”

Democrats faulted Republicans for not taking action sooner, including ignoring a special session call from Evers last year to pass a variety of police reform measures, and not taking more forceful steps like banning no-knock warrants.

“We could do more,” said Democratic Rep. David Bowen, of Milwaukee, who is Black. “We are not allowed to have that bipartisanship because it is too controversial.”

Stubbs said the bills provided meaningful reform in response to demands from the community following police shootings, including of Jacob Blake last August in Kenosha. Stubbs said the measures will promote transparency, mandate more training, hold officers to a higher standard and take a step toward a more equitable Wisconsin.

“We cannot continue to stand in partisan gridlock as our communities continue to be failed by law enforcement,” Stubbs said.

The bills are working their way through the Legislature a year after George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis. Floyd, who was Black, died after white police Officer Derek Chauvin pressed his knee into his neck for 9 minutes, 29 seconds. Chauvin lost his job and was found guilty of murder. Numerous other shootings of Black people by white police officers across the country, including in Wisconsin, have placed greater attention on policing policies and accelerated calls for change.

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