Eight Can’t Wait: Local police departments revisit policies on use of force after nationwide call for reform

Calls to reform police practices are happening all over the country, and it’s causing police departments in Wisconsin to double check their policies.

One of the movements in reform is called “Eight Can’t Wait” – a list of eight policy changes departments can make that the people behind it say will make communities safer, including a ban on choke holds and strangleholds, requiring de-escalation, requiring a warning before shooting, requiring exhaustion of all alternatives before shooting, a duty to intervene, a ban on shooting at moving vehicles, requiring a use of force continuum and requiring comprehensive reporting on all uses of force.

Many of the policies are already in practice in departments in the state. The city of Madison’s police chief wrote in a blog post Sunday that Madison Police Department’s policies are consistent with the list of policies, though they do leave some exceptions for an officer to protect their life or those around them.

“So much of policing has to do with the values and beliefs of an organization coupled with policy and procedure to assure what you want to have happen is happening,” said Janesville Police Chief David Moore, whose department has similar policies.

Moore oversaw the reform in his department that took place over the last decade. In addition to policy changes, the department has implemented anti-bias training and created a committee that works directly with African American citizens in giving them a voice in department operations.

Moore said his department largely follows the Eight Can’t Wait policies, but for some of the measures, such as a ban on shooting at a moving vehicle, he’s left room some for officers.

“Our orders are that you are not to shoot at the moving vehicle, but there could be exigent circumstances that would allow it,” he said. “It’s not an absolute.”

That is the thinking some police departments have when it comes to use of force – departments want policies that will protect the greater public but are also broad enough to handle the unpredictable nature of the job and allow officers to defend themselves if need be.

Jim Palmer, the executive director of Wisconsin Professional Police Association, the state’s largest police union, said this shows up in other encouraged reform, such as giving a verbal warning before using deadly force.

“Obviously there are instances where that simply isn’t possible,” Palmer said. “And that’s because of actions of individuals to threaten the lives of a police officer or a member of the public.”

Palmer said some of the other ideas, such as de-escalation, exhausting other alternatives and the duty to intervene are already in broad practice or policy across the state. He said the union is open to other measures, particularly ones that encourage accountability, but he said discussions should include police in addition to communities of color.

“We need to find a way to start talking with one another rather than at one another,” Palmer said.