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Wisconsin sees uptick in fatal police shootings in 2019

WAUSAU, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin is ending the year with more fatal police shootings than last year, as the Fox Valley and the state’s northeastern region showing marked increases in shootings.

Police officers shot and killed 16 people this year, according to data collected by the Wisconsin Professional Police Association, the largest Wisconsin police union. The data show police killed 13 people in Wisconsin last year.

Eleven of the people killed this year were white, three were black and two were Hispanic, according to the data. Census data from 2018 indicate the state’s racial demographic was composed of about 87% whites, 6% blacks and 7% Hispanics or Latinos.

Three of the five most recent fatal police shootings happened in the northeastern region of the state, while the other two happened in Madison and Sparta. Seven of the 16 shootings this year happened in Fox Valley and the northeast area.

“These numbers are really volatile,” said John Roman, an economist who studies police shootings as a senior fellow at the University of Chicago. “These are relatively rare events. … They’re small numbers. Any time you’re dealing with small numbers, there’s a lot of volatility.”

Jim Palmer, executive director of the WPPA, noted that the total number of fatal and nonfatal police shootings has been relatively stable. Specifically, of the 28 fatal and nonfatal police shootings so far this year, 26 involved an armed suspect.

Although the circumstances that lead to police shootings vary, two common contributing factors are mental-health troubles and the presence of guns, Wisconsin Public Radio reported Monday.

Wisconsin is one of 34 states that does not require training in de-escalation— which is meant to teach officers ways to prevent violence. And although large police departments, including Milwaukee’s and Madison’s, offer that training, many departments don’t put a priority on it.

Meanwhile, Roman said that training can make a difference.

“Law enforcement agencies that implement aggressive, intentional de-escalation training and policies shoot far less often than law enforcement agencies that don’t,” Roman said.

Roman also linked people’s gun ownership to higher rates of police shootings.

“An officer working in a place where firearms possession by the civilians they encounter is high is more on-edge than an officer working in a place where the number of firearms possessed by civilians is low,” he said.

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