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Wisconsin lawmakers introduce police reform package

By TODD RICHMOND
Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A group of Wisconsin lawmakers introduced legislation Wednesday designed to reform police use-of-force policies and investigations, including proposals that would ban training on chokeholds, punish municipalities that defund police departments and set up a board to investigate officer-involved deaths and injuries.

The package from Republican Sens. Van Wanggaard and Alberta Darling, along with Democratic Sen. Lena Taylor, comes after the state saw protests last year over police brutality and racism sparked by George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis. In August an Illinois teen named Kyle Rittenhouse allegedly shot and killed two men and wounded a third during a demonstration in Kenosha after a white officer shot Jacob Blake, who is Black, in the back during a domestic dispute. Prosecutors have said Blake was armed with a knife and didn’t charge the officer with any criminal wrongdoing

“Increasing accountability and transparency for the police, which also increasing community involvement, is something we can all agree on,” Wanggaard, a former police officer, said in a statement.

The legislation’s fate looks unclear. Adam Gibbs, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu, didn’t return a message inquiring about its chances. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos has formed his own task force to study police reforms. His office referred questions on the Senate package to Majority Leader Jim Steineke. His spokeswoman, Alesha Emmert, said Republican leaders will ask the task force for thoughts on the bills.

A spokeswoman for Gov. Tony Evers also didn’t return a message. The governor introduced his own reforms in the wake of the Kenosha protests, including banning chokeholds and no-knock search warrants, creating use-of-force standards and grants for organizations that work to prevent violence. Republicans took no action on any of it.

The three senators said they developed the package by talking with police and criminal justice reforms over the summer.

The legislation would ban training on chokeholds and reduce state aid to municipalities that reduce funding for hiring, training and retaining officers by however much the municipalities cut. That amount would be redistributed as aid to municipalities that didn’t cut police funding.

The package also would create a board that could choose to investigate officer-involved deaths and serious injuries after prosecutors have finished with the case. The board would be made up of representatives from police unions, a mental health professional, a defense attorney and a representative of the Wisconsin District Attorneys Association.

The board would include representatives from multiple statewide police unions, a police training director and a mental health professional.

The board would have to issue a public report at the conclusion of its investigations with recommendations to prevent similar incidents in the future.

Other proposals in the legislation include:

— Mandating all police departments post use-of-force policies online.

— Requiring all use-of-force policies to mandate officers report every incident they’re involved in or observe and prohibiting disciplining an officer who reports policy violations.

— Requiring the state Justice Department to publish an annual report on use-of-force incidents.

— Adding to the Milwaukee and Madison police and fire commissions, allow for tribunals to conduct trials on complaints against police and firefighters and require all commissioners in both cities to receive training on use-of-force policies.

Jim Palmer, executive director of the Wisconsin Professional Police Association, the state’s largest police union, said the proposals stem from ideas the union released last fall. He said the legislation promotes transparency and greater community involvement.

Jerry Deschane, a lobbyist for the League of Wisconsin Municipalities, said his group is still studying the package but called the plan to reduce municipal aid “misguided.”

“To say that local police budgets can never be cut… guarantees citizens will see even larger cuts in fire service, emergency medical services, snow plowing, street maintenance and all of the other vital services provided by local governments,” he said.

Meanwhile on Wednesday, another group of legislators resurrected a bill that would allow more convicts to have their records expunged.

Judges currently can order expungement if the conviction is for a Class H felony or below, the crime wasn’t violent, the person committed the crime before age 25 and has no previous felony conviction. Expungement is contingent upon sentence completion and must be ordered during sentencing.

The bill from Sen. Alberta Darling and Rep. David Steffen, both Republicans, and Sen. Kelda Roys and Rep. Evan Goyke, both Democrats, would allow judges to order expungement after sentence completion and remove the age limit.

A nearly identical proposal cleared the Assembly last session but went nowhere in the Senate. This time around the lawmakers are portraying the proposal as a way to help ex-convicts find jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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