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Wisconsin Senate passes first police reform bills

Four of the five police reform bills passed on the Senate floor.
Milwaukee Police
Posted at 5:34 PM, May 11, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-11 18:56:38-04

MADISON — A call for police reform has been heard throughout the country following the death of George Floyd and others.

Community members are hoping for change in regards to policing, and at the state and local level, that need is being addressed.

That call to action was heard on the Senate floor as several police reform bills were discussed.

The police reform bills discussed Tuesday included Senate Bill 117. The bill makes changes that affect the Board of Fire and Police Commissioners, and it ultimately passed.

The measures also would create a $600,000 grant program for police; require police to post use-of-force policies online; require the state Justice Department to gather more data on use-of-force incidents and produce an annual report; require police to share personnel files during the hiring process; and require Milwaukee and Madison's police oversight commissions to add union nominees, according to the Associated Press.

Third District State Senator Tim Carpenter wants those on the board to live in Milwaukee.

"You want to be on the Fire and Police Commission? You want to represent the City of Milwaukee? Well, you should live Milwaukee," Carpenter said.

Tuesday morning, the Wisconsin Professional Police Association released its ninth annual state-wide survey detailing what 1,001 Wisconsinites felt about certain police tactics.

"There is a significant proportion of Wisconsinites that feel policing in the state should undergo some amount of change," Wisconsin Professional Police Association Executive Director Jim Palmer II said.

The survey, taken by 1,001 Wisconsinites at the beginning of the year, shows nearly 50% believe chokeholds should be allowed, while 37% disagree.

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"We have long supported a prohibition on the use of chokeholds with the exception that officers shouldn't be penalized for using them if they have to save their lives," Palmer reiterated.

Last week, the Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission voted unanimously to ban chokeholds, even in life or death situations.

Radio host and activist Tory Lowe said while that is a step in the right direction, that's not the only issue that needs attention.

"There are departments that don't have body cameras on - that's an issue," Lowe said. "I think that all police officers in the state of Wisconsin should be wearing body cameras."

It's a priority that shows a racial divide.

In the same survey, 60% of non-white people considered body cameras an immediate priority, versus 44% of white people.

In Wisconsin, chokeholds are not taught as a use of force.

Palmer said body-worn camera evidence can be very helpful in providing a greater degree of certainty - a chance to give the community certainty that what they are hearing from the police is what actually happened.

Meanwhile, Lowe says the need for change in police reform is crucial so community members and officers can begin to strengthen relationships.

"I think that Wisconsin lawmakers should take this as an opportunity to build accountability and transparency right now," Lowe said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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