MILWAUKEE — The new year brings a new law in Wisconsin that requires police officers to intervene if they see or hear of another officer using excessive force.
As of Jan. 1, all law enforcement officers in Wisconsin are legally required to stop other officers if they see them using an unlawful amount of force. While the law is new statewide, it’s been standard operating procedure in Milwaukee since 2013. But even after 9 years, the policy’s effectiveness in the state’s largest city remains largely unknown.
Failure for police to intervene was on full display when Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on George Floyd’s neck. A month later in Milwaukee, an MPD officer put his knee on the back of a protester’s head. In both instances, their colleagues were seen on cell phone video standing by.
Now, Wisconsin law requires officers to essentially police fellow officers who step out of line. Milwaukee Police Association President Andrew Wagner thinks that’s a good thing.
“I think having a standard policy throughout the state only helps to engage that community trust that we're looking for,” he said.
The state’s new standard policy also requires officers to alert their supervisor if they hear of another officer using unlawful force during an arrest. Whistle-blowers are protected from being discharged, disciplined or demoted for speaking out.
“One bad police officer in our ranks makes us all look bad. So the protection is just another layer of if someone reports that they have to guarantee, that there won't be any kind of repercussions to their job or career,” Wagner said.
The new state law says those who intentionally fail to report a non-compliant use of force may be fined up to $1,000 or sent to jail for up to six months.
"If they see corruption, they have to tell it just like if we see crime out here, we've got to help,” said community advocate Tory Lowe.
Lowe believes the duty to intervene law is a step in the right direction, but he fears the ‘code of silence’ could still prevent officers from taking action.
"The 'blue wall of silence' is real and sometimes when you do try to step up and make things right, you are met with a lot of force inside the culture. So if this can help those officers with some more protections, this is a great thing,” he said.
Violation of Milwaukee’s duty to intervene policy comes with discipline up to termination, but TMJ4 News found that the police department doesn’t keep records of offenders. Without the proof on paper, we asked Wagner if he thinks the city’s policy has made a difference.
"I don't know if it made a big difference, but at least for the protection saying that they'll be protected if they do is there,” he said.