Evers, Barnes outline policing accountability and transparency reforms in Wisconsin
Governor, Lieutenant Governor announce legislation on Juneteenth
For the Tomahawk Leader
MADISON — Governor Tony Evers and Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes on Friday, June 19 announced a package of legislation “to increase accountability and transparency in policing in Wisconsin,” a release from Evers’ office stated.
“The announcement comes on Juneteenth, celebrated annually to commemorate the end of slavery in the United States, and in the wake of the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and calls of Wisconsinites and people across the country for justice and equity for Black Americans,” the release said.
Evers and Barnes highlighted the state’s racial disparity statistics in the release, noting Wisconsin is among the worst states in the country in regards to infant mortality, child poverty, educational attainment, employment, homeownership, and incarceration.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has likewise illustrated disparities in health outcomes as Black Wisconsinites only comprise of 6.7% of the state’s population according to the U.S. Census Bureau but account for nearly a quarter of Wisconsin’s COVID-19 deaths,” the release says.
“We continue to lose far too many Black lives, be it from inequities in criminal justice and policing, in health care, or in economic well-being,” Barnes stated. “The social and economic consequences of these deep-seated inequities reach every community in our state and eliminating them will require action at every level of government. Passing these bills is one piece of how we move closer to accountability, equity, and justice for all.”
The package of legislation includes:
- 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.
- Requires each law enforcement officer to annually complete at least eight hours of training on use of force options and de-escalation techniques.
- 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.
- Requires law enforcement agencies to develop policies prohibiting the use of chokeholds.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Prohibits no-knock search warrants.
- 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.
Evers and Barnes also called for bipartisanship in addressing racism and increasing law enforcement accountability in a letter to the Wisconsin Legislative Black Caucus.
“Our country promises the opportunity of justice and equity, and it’s time for us to deliver on that promise,” Evers said. “We know we don’t have all of the answers—no one does. This legislation is a first step toward dismantling the systems we’ve created, but it can only be a first step. Racism and racial disparities can’t be solved with any single bill or package of bills, or person—it’s on all of us, together. We must meet this movement with our empathy and our compassion, but most of all we must meet it with action.”