Task force on racial justice releases recommendations; unable to define ‘excessive force’

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MADISON,  Wis. (CBS 58) -- A bipartisan group of lawmakers, police officers and community leaders have released 18 recommendations for law enforcement including the use of body cameras and protections for officers who report others who exceed use of force policies.

The Assembly Speaker’s Task Force on Racial Disparities was created in wake of a Kenosha police officer shooting a Black man, Jacob Blake, in August 2020 and aims to reduce racial disparities in law enforcement policies.

Some of their recommendations include the use of body cameras, whistleblower protections for officers who witness another officer using excessive use of force, creating an independent use of force advisory board, de-escalation technique training for school resources officers, crisis management training, and requiring law enforcement to be screened for drugs/alcohol following an officer involved shooting.

Other recommendations would require law enforcement agencies to post their use of force policy online and mandate a psychological examination of an officer.

The task force was not able to reach consensus on defining excessive use of force after Gov. Tony Evers proposed changing the state’s definition.

“We have to keep working on getting there,” said Rep. Shelia Stubbs (D-Madison), a co-chair on the task force. “Every member agreed we need the definition so we're going to do a work group who’s going to take a deeper dive.”

Fred Royal, the president of the Milwaukee chapter of the NAACP and member of the task force, said he wished they could have reached an agreement on the definition because he believes without one “how can an officer determine what excessive force is?”

“I’m disheartened because I can’t see how a recommendation coming out of a work group is going to direct any policies statewide,” said Royal.

The proposals come a day after a jury found former police officer Derek Chauvin guilty of the murder of George Floyd.

A complete ban on chokeholds and no-knock warrants also fell short in the recommendations as members of the task force were unable to reach an agreement. They did however support the idea that chokeholds should only be used as a last resort if an officer is in a life-threatening situation and called on state and federal agencies to collect information on how often no-knock warrants are used.

“Law enforcement officials were telling me, if you take away chokeholds as an option, then the only last lethal weapon they have is to use a gun,” said Stubbs.

Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke (R-Kaukauna), co-chair of the task force, said he hopes to hold public hearings on the recommendations next month with a goal to bring them to the floor by June.

“I think this task force proves you can still have reasonable, rational conversations about incredible difficult issues, and find that common ground,” said Steineke.

Stubbs said she’s remaining hopeful the recommendations can become law, but they will have to pass the Republican-led legislation and be signed by Gov. Evers.

“The work does not end here,” said Stubbs. “This task force shows that there are many areas that Democrats and Republicans can come together to better serve the people we represent.”

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) welcomed the recommendations to his chamber.

“These certainly are not easy issues to discuss, but this subcommittee brought together community members and law enforcement to lay the groundwork for bipartisan legislation,” Vos said in a statement. “ I look forward to seeing those bills introduced for consideration by the legislature."

The task force includes Republicans, Democrats, social justice activists, religious leaders and police officers, and they've held eighth meetings across the state discussing these recommendations.

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