A year in review: How much progress have lawmakers made on police reform?
MADISON, Wis. (CBS 58) -- As many communities reflect on the one-year anniversary of the death of George Floyd this week, the pressure for lawmakers to act on police reform continues.
It was almost a year ago the Legislative Task Force on Racial Disparities was created in wake of a Kenosha police officer shooting a Black man, Jacob Blake, in August 2020. The goal was to create proposals that would reduce racial disparities in law enforcement policies. That commitment was met as the task force last month released 18 recommendations that seek to overhaul police policies, but many advocates believe their efforts don’t do enough.
“I think they fell woefully short,” said Fred Royal, president of NAACP Milwaukee Chapter and a member of the task force. “Actually, I give them credit for doing what they said they’d do with the recommendations, but it’s nothing substantial to change police departments.”
This week there was movement, as seven police reform bills developed from the task force got their first public hearing. Proposals range from tracking the use of no-knock warrants, requiring drug tests for officers who shoot someone, developing training programs for school resource officers and requiring officers to undergo a psychological exam before they are hired.
“This subcommittee has worked diligently to discuss and recommend real bipartisan policies and practices that brought changes by consensus,” said Rep. Shelia Stubbs (D-Madison), a co-chair of the task force. “This is our moment in time. Please help us move forward, because criminal justice reforms are necessary,” Stubbs said while testifying at the committee hearing.
After weeks of debate, members on a subcommittee of the task force were also able to reach consensus on a new definition of excessive force. It’s not finalized yet, but Steineke said they plan to draft the language into legislation soon.
Overall, they agreed to have the phrase “objective reasonableness” in the language, which does have legal precedent.
However, activists and the NAACP wanted to use “proportionate,” that the amount of force is used to the situation an officer encounters.
“They prefer to stick to something that is performance based, which clearly isn’t working,” said Royal.
Rep. Jim Steineke, co-chair of the task force, believes the definition was a step in the right direction.
“If another officer is using excessive force and you have that informative duty to intervene, you have to have something to fall back on in statutes in order to have any criminal penalties for violating it,” Steineke said.
The task force is hoping to have their proposals on the floor in June. Gov. Tony Evers has not signaled if he will sign them.
Last month he used his executive powers to require state police to update their use of force policies to ban chokeholds. The governor also called a special session to take up police reform measures, but Republicans rejected it.
Last month, the State Senate also passed some police reform measures that would require law enforcement to post their use of force policies online, provide grants to cities to fund more community-oriented police houses and mandate law enforcement agencies to share employee profiles with other departments during a hiring process.
Another would require Wisconsin’s Department of Justice to collect additional data on use of force incidents, including officer-involved shootings, and publish an annual report.