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Evers, Barnes push for police reform with legislative package

NOW: Evers, Barnes push for police reform with legislative package

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MADISON, Wis. (CBS 58) – Gov. Tony Evers and Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes rolled out a package of bills aimed at police accountability and reforms, though it remains uncertain if the leaders can build bipartisan support for the bills.

Among the bills include a ban on the use of chokeholds by officers as well as a prohibition of no-knock search warrants. Those two pieces of legislation are partly inspired by the deaths of Eric Gardner, George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.

The package of nine bills also includes other reforms like requiring law enforcement agencies to make any use of force policies publicly available and requiring law enforcement agency employee records to be maintained and available to future law enforcement employers.

“This is just the beginning,” Evers said in a radio interview on The Earl Ingram Jr. Show on Talk 101.7 FM.

Evers and Barnes said they do not want to call a Special Session of the GOP-controlled Legislature because of concerns it may end up as another political showdown between Democrats and Republicans.

“This is too important to have people just gavel in and gavel out. We want republicans and democrats to come together on this,” Evers said in the radio interview.

“As many times as the Republican-controlled Legislature, as many times as Speaker Vos has turned his back on the people, I don’t think the residents of the state of Wisconsin deserve to have that slap in the face again,” Barnes told CBS 58.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R – Rochester) and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R – Juneau) did not immediately return request for comment by CBS 58.

Ultimately, the passage of the bills will require bipartisan support and while action is not likely until 2021 when the Legislature convenes again for a new session, the effort is not entirely doomed.

Key Republicans, like Sen. Van Wanggaard (R – Racine) will need to be on board in order for the bills to be able to advance with the needed votes. Wanggaard is a former police officer of several decades and has worked with Democrats on developing policing reform.

“In the past, I have co-sponsored some of the bills supported by the Governor today,” Wanggaard said in a statement. “Those bills enhance public confidence in the police and codify existing practice, while preserving public safety and the safety of officers. For the same reason, I have adamantly opposed some of these bills because they perpetuate false impressions of law enforcement and jeopardize the safety of officers and the public.”

CBS 58 also reached out to the Milwaukee Police Department which said in a statement, “There are policy and law changes that have been discussed both nationally and locally that the Milwaukee Police Department supports in concept to further improve police legitimacy, transparency and police-community relations. We look forward to working with our state and local legislators to participate in the conversation of how those policies and laws may be enacted.”

Success, if any, for the package of bills faces an uphill battle, but Lt. Gov. Barnes said his message to GOP lawmakers is that reform is long overdue.

“There’s no way they can run away from this responsibility,” Barnes said. “I don’t understand why they would want to run away from this responsibility.”

The bills announced by Gov. Evers and Lt. Gov. Barnes are listed below with links and summary written by their offices:

  • LRB 6273:
    • Establishes statewide use of force standards for all law enforcement agencies that includes that the primary duty of law enforcement is to preserve the life of all individuals; that deadly force is to be used only as the last resort; that officers should use skills and tactics that minimize the likelihood that force will become necessary; that, if officers must use physical force, it should be the least amount of force necessary to safely address the threat; and that law enforcement officers must take reasonable action to stop or prevent any unreasonable use of force by their colleagues;
    • Prohibits discipline of a law enforcement officer for reporting a violation of a law enforcement agency's use of force policy; and
    • Requires the Law Enforcement Standards Board (LESB) to develop a model use of force policy for law enforcement agencies.
  • LRB 6274:
    • Requires each law enforcement officer to annually complete at least eight hours of training on use of force options and de-escalation techniques.
  • LRB 6275:
    • Creates a $1,000,000 grant program, administered by the Department of Justice, to fund community organizations that are utilizing evidence-based outreach and violence interruption strategies to mediate conflicts, prevent retaliation and other potentially violent situations, and connect individuals to community supports.
  • LRB 6276:
    • Requires law enforcement agencies to develop policies prohibiting the use of chokeholds.
  • LRB 6277:
    • Requires each law enforcement agency to not only prepare a policy regarding the use of force by its law enforcement officers, but to make it available publicly online.
  • LRB 6281:
    • Creates a civil cause of action for unnecessarily summoning a law enforcement officer with intent to infringe upon a right of the person under the Wisconsin Constitution or the U.S. Constitution; unlawfully discriminate against the person; cause the person to feel harassed, humiliated, or embarrassed; cause the person to be expelled from a place in which the person is lawfully located; damage the person's reputation or standing within the community; or damage the person's financial, economic, consumer, or business prospects or interests.
  • LRB 6283:
    • Requires that the Department of Justice publish an annual report on use of force incidents, including incidents where there was a shooting, where a firearm was discharged in the direction of a person (even if there was no injury), and where other serious bodily harm resulted from the incident; and
    • Requires certain demographic information to be collected about each incident and reported annually by DOJ on its website.
  • LRB 6289:
    • Prohibits no-knock search warrants.
  • LRB 6292:
    • Makes certain changes to the responsibilities of the LESB, including requiring LESB to also regulate jail and juvenile detention officer training standards and regulate recruitment standards for the recruiting of new law enforcement, jail, and juvenile detention officers;
    • Requires each law enforcement agency to maintain an employment file for each employee; and
    • Requires each potential candidate for a position in an agency, jail, or facility that is or has been employed by a different agency, jail, or facility to authorize their previous employer to disclose his or her employment files to the hiring entity.
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