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;
- 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."
Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke, R-Kaukauna, 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.
The panel's other co-chair, Rep. Shelia Stubbs, D-Madison, 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.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, 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. Floyd's death in May ignited a national reckoning on racial justice and police use of force techniques and policies. The police shooting of Daunte Wright in the Minneapolis suburb of Brooklyn Center on April 11, which happened during the Chauvin trial, led to a renewed call for change.
Steineke 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. We could also make some inroads with voters we don't normally reach. Worse case scenario, we show a willingness to work on these issues and make the Democrats say no to things."
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."