Wisconsin racial justice task force issues recommendations
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The Wisconsin Assembly’s bipartisan racial disparities task force created in the wake of a white Kenosha police officer shooting a Black man issued 18 recommendations on Wednesday but stopped short of calling for a total ban on chokeholds and no-knock warrants as Gov. Tony Evers wants.
The group could also not reach consensus on how to define what constitutes excessive police use of force for the purposes of creating a statewide definition, although it recommended there be a statewide standard. Evers had also proposed creating a statewide definition as part of a package of nine bills he put forward after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis last year, but that the Republican-controlled Legislature ignored.
The task force did recommend calling for law enforcement agencies to make their use of force policies available online, standardize the reporting of use-of-force incidents to the state and require crisis management training for all law enforcement officers.
Other recommendations include requiring a duty for police officers to intervene in instances where another officer is using force and to report that to a superior officer; requiring police officers working in schools to receive some specific training for that assignment; mandating a psychological examination as a condition of employment for a law enforcement officer; and requiring drug and alcohol testing for any officer involved in an incident that causes a death or serious injury.
The task force called for collecting data from federal, state and local law enforcement agencies to determine how often no-knock warrants are used. And while it said chokeholds should be banned, it said they should still be allowed in “life-threatening situations or in self defense.”
Republican Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke, co-chair of the task force, said in an interview on Tuesday that he hoped to move “as quick as practicable” on drafting bills based on the recommendations, with public hearings next month and June votes in the Assembly. The bills must also pass the GOP-controlled Senate and be signed by Evers, a Democrat, to become law.
Evers’ spokeswoman Britt Cudaback had no immediate comment on the recommendations.
The panel’s other co-chair, Democratic Rep. Shelia Stubbs, had been critical of Republican leaders for not taking up bills to address police practices and racial disparities. But Stubbs, who is Black, said she was optimistic the recommendations would get traction.
“We just gotta get to that place where we get something done for the people across the state,” Stubbs said.
The task force included both Republican and Democratic lawmakers, members of municipal, county and state law enforcement agencies, leaders from Native American tribes and faith, education, health, business and community leaders and activists.
One of the task force members representing the state’s largest law enforcement labor union, the Wisconsin Professional Police Association, said it was imperative for the Legislature to act on the recommendations.
Jim Palmer, executive director of the statewide union that represents about 11,000 current and retired law enforcement officers, called the recommendations “a meaningful step forward in strengthening policing in Wisconsin and the relationship between law enforcement and the communities it serves.”
“If enacted, these measures will serve to increase law enforcement transparency and accountability, enhance the training and qualifications officers need to meet the present-day demands of their profession, and provide local governments with more resources to better serve the public,” Palmer said.
Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos created the task force in August, after the Legislature ignored nine proposals Evers put forward in June and after a white Kenosha police officer shot Jacob Blake, who is Black, leaving him paralyzed. Prosecutors said Blake was armed with a knife and didn’t charge the officer with any criminal wrongdoing. That shooting, which was just three months after Floyd’s death in Minneapolis, sparked protests and calls for addressing systemic racism within the criminal justice system.
The announcement of the task force’s recommendations came the day after a jury found former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin guilty of murder.
Steineke, of Kaukauna, took heat earlier this year when emails revealed he thought the job of co-chairing the task force was a “political loser.” Steineke said in an email to Vos that the task force provided a chance to “show how Evers could get things done if his admin weren’t so damned political.”
Both Steineke and Stubbs said they were proud of the work done by the task force and its recommendations.
“It’s very clear that the work does not end here,” Stubbs said. “To fight systemic racism, we need all hands on deck.”
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