New Wisconsin law aimed at curbing 'wandering officer' phenomenon in law enforcement

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Posted at 5:32 AM, Dec 21, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-21 23:29:20-05

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A Wisconsin law enacted last month is aimed at improving communication between police departments as they hire officers from other parts of the state.

The "wandering officer" is the phenomenon of police officers leaving their job after potential misconduct only to find work in another department. Earlier this year, the I-Team found since 2016 nearly 200 officers who were fired for cause, or quit in lieu of termination found work at other law enforcement agencies in Wisconsin.

Also in the new law, authored by Harrison Republican state Rep. Ron Tusler, officers will have personnel files to help give agencies that may hire them additional information in the hiring process.

"We're going to have a file that's going to show their commendations - the good things and bad things," Tusler said.

The Wisconsin Department of Justice has kept a database of officers who quit or were fired for agencies who may consider hiring them in the future. However, the list provided information on if an officer was flagged, not why.

The new law signed in November by Gov. Tony Evers would make quitting in lieu of termination a potential reason to decertify an officer in Wisconsin, meaning they can no longer be a law enforcement professional in the state.


It also does away with non-disclosure agreements when an officer leaves a department.

"These are agreements have probably never should have been legal but they got to be common and you know they exist in Wisconsin, they exist in other states as well," Tusler said.

The I-Team shared the legislation with the Policing Project at New York University School of Law, where they study policing policies and standards boards across the country. Senior Staff Attorney Josh Parker said from a reporting standpoint, the law is ahead of the curve.

"I think it's a great first step," Parker said. "What we see in this bill is a requirement basically that agencies do a more comprehensive background check on officers before they hire them."

But Parker notes the bill "does not have teeth," meaning there are no consequences spelled out for any law enforcement agency that does not comply with the laws.

Tusler said if that happened the matter would go before the Law Enforcement Standards Board, or LESB, the same agency that certifies and decertifies police officers in Wisconsin.

Wisconsin lawmakers considering changing the way 'flagged officers' are recruited

Parker also states while the law extends the parameters for which an officer can be decertified, he still had concerns.

"The grounds by which the board (LESB) may decertify officers are overall quite narrow in Wisconsin compared to other states," Parker said.

Another piece of legislation in Wisconsin would additionally extend the LESB parameters for decertification. Milwaukee Democrat state Rep. Supreme Moore Omokunde has introduced a plan to give additional decertification powers to the board when an officer violates a use of force policy, setting a 30-day deadline for that process.

"We do want to make sure there are checks and balances with local law enforcement especially for those who are violating those high-level use of force policies," Moore Omokunde said.

Tusler said his bill that's now law should cover the most egregious use of force violations, and was cautious about expanding the board's powers in fear officers that don't deserve to be decertified may find themselves in front of the LESB.

Moore Omokunde's bill was introduced this fall but hasn't been called out of committee.

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