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Wisconsin lawmakers introduce police reform package

Posted at 2:52 PM, Jan 20, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-20 23:28:53-05

Three Wisconsin state senators introduced a bipartisan package of bills aimed at police reform Wednesday, including a proposal to establish an independent board to review instances where force is used.

Sen. Van Wanggaard, R-Racine, Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills and Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee, are leading up the effort.

"We’ve had hundreds of hours invested in all of these bills because we’ve been working on this," Sen. Wanggaard said. "And it wasn’t a knee jerk reaction to any situations that occurred anywhere, whether it was in Minnesota or Kenosha."

The package of seven bills proposes several reforms, including banning the training of the use of chokeholds, establishing Community Oriented Policing or "COPS" grant programs, protecting whistleblowers and introducing reforms to police and fire commissions in Milwaukee and Madison.

Sen. Taylor said none of the legislation is perfect, but she believes it's at least a good start. She said she hopes other lawmakers keep an open mind.

"We need police reform, and if people couldn’t see it in the difference of how individuals were treated when they went to the nation’s capital, and how individuals were received, for example, in Kenosha," Sen. Taylor said. "It’s different."

One of the major forces behind the use of force review board is Michael Bell.

"Never underestimate a father's love for his child," Bell said.

Bell lost his son in an officer-involved shooting in Kenosha in November 2004. Since then, he has not stopped fighting for more police accountability. Bell is a big reason why Wisconsin law requires outside agencies to investigate deadly police shootings.

"This legislation is so important because it takes away just blaming the person that got shot or blaming the officer," Bell said. "It takes a look at the root cause and what went wrong."

According to the bill, the board would be made up of attorneys, police union members, academy training instructors, and a mental health advocate. The bill proposes the board investigates a use-of-force situation and produces a public report.

"The report must identify events or developments that led to the officer-involved death or serious injury and make recommendations to prevent similar incidents in the future," the bill text reads.

A spokesperson for the Wisconsin Professional Police Association said the organization "strongly supports" the proposals.

In a statement, the spokesperson wrote, "As the state's largest law enforcement group, we believe Wisconsin can and must take meaningful action to strengthen the relationship between and law enforcement officers and the communities they serve, without compromising the safety that every citizen has the right to expect. Despite the significant political division that exists in this state and country, it is gratifying to see lawmakers from both sides of the aisle come together to introduce these thoughtful measures to promote transparency, accountability, and community oversight."

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