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Wisconsin Assembly hearing set on panel’s first police bills

By TODD RICHMOND
Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin lawmakers on Thursday were set to consider the first bills based on recommendations from a racial disparities task force that the Assembly’s top Republican put together last year following George Floyd’s death and a rash of police shootings across the country.

The Assembly’s criminal justice committee was set to hold a public hearing on the proposals beginning Thursday morning. A number of police associations support the bills, but opponents say they would accomplish little. Black Leaders Organizing for Communities, a Milwaukee-based nonprofit that works to improve Black people’s lives, planned a midday news conference to call for more substantial measures.

“We’re coming together to make our voices heard that this is not what the community wants and we demand stronger bills that will actually tackle these issues,” the group said in a news release.

Democratic Rep. Evan Goyke of Milwaukee, one of the bills’ co-sponsors, called the measures a “positive step” before the hearing.

“These are good bills, good ideas, but they’re the beginning and not the end,” he said.

The bipartisan seven-bill package includes measures that would require the state Department of Justice to prepare annual reports on the number of no-knock entries executed each year and how many resulted in injury or death. The package would also require the DOJ’s Office of School Safety to develop a training program for officers stationed in schools.

Officer applicants statewide would have to undergo psychological examinations before they could be hired and officers would have to take four hours of crisis management training as part of their annual recertification training. Officers who shoot at someone or are involved in an incident resulting in a death or injury would have to undergo a drug test.

Other bills in the package would create a grant program to purchase body cameras for patrol officers and expand eligibility for a $250,000 grant program to help people in rural areas deal with crises. Currently, only counties or regions are eligible for such grants, and the legislation would also make them available to municipalities.

Pressure to overhaul police practices has been building nationally since Floyd’s death in May 2020. The spotlight turned to Wisconsin in August when a white Kenosha police officer shot Jacob Blake, who is Black, during a domestic dispute. Blake was left paralyzed from the waist down. That shooting sparked several nights of chaotic demonstrations.

Democratic Gov. Tony Evers called special legislative sessions to pass police reform bills after both incidents, but Republican leaders refused to convene both times. Vos instead created a task force to examine racial disparities.

The task force released its recommendations in April. In addition to the proposals before the criminal justice committee Thursday, the task force’s recommendations include a statewide prohibition on officers using chokeholds except to save a life or in self-defense and the creation of an independent of an independent board to research use-of-force incidents and develop best practices. But lawmakers have yet to introduce any bills that would make either of those recommendations law.

The state Senate earlier this month passed bills that would create a grant program for community-based policing in large cities, mandate police post use-of-force policies online, require the DOJ to gather more data on use-of-force incidents and produce an annual report and require Milwaukee and Madison’s police and firefighter oversight commissions to add union representatives. Most of those concepts had been at least debated before the task force formed, however.

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