Lawmaker proposes change in use of force standards

Lawmaker proposes change in use of force standards

The standards by which police can use deadly force would change under bills being drafted by a Madison lawmaker.

Rep. Chris Taylor (D-Madison) co-authored the 2014 legislation that requires an outside investigation into officer-involved shootings. Taylor wants to further that progress by changing the way cases are reviewed and preventing officer-involved shootings from happening at all.

“In the face of these tragedies I think that the focus should be prevent these incidents in the first place,” Taylor said. “We must reform law enforcement use of force standards as recommended by legal experts, and law enforcement organizations and professionals,” she said in a statement.

Taylor has been working on two bills she believes will minimize the number of officer-involved shootings. One would require eight hours of training on de-escalation techniques each year. Another bill requires law enforcement officers to incorporate five key policies to reduce incidents of deadly force. Those practices include: the primary duty of law enforcement to preserve life of all individuals, deadly force to be used only as a last resort, physical force should be limited to the least amount of force necessary, de-escalation tactics and that all law enforcement officers should stop or prevent any unreasonable use of force.

“We have seen departments from all over the country really reform use of force policies and make a big difference in protecting law enforcement and the community,” said Taylor

Taylor said many police departments across the country, including those in San Francisco, Philadelphia, and Seattle, that have adopted similar recommendations have seen a reduction in the number of use of force incidents.

“In making sure these policies are a bit more specific is, it established a tone and it gives the public some accountability. The public doesn’t see how police officers are trained but what they do see is the policies of the department,” she said.

Madison College law enforcement trainer Brian Landers said focusing on de-escalation and trying to define the amount of force is problematic.

“To look back and say we are not sure that was the minimum amount of force needed — I think that would lead officers and agencies down a road of litigation because what is minimum in one person’s view might not be minimum in another,” Landers said.

Landers believes the state should implement stronger continued training policies. His program focuses on application of force, verbal communication and skills to create distance and time to evaluate each situation — training he believes should never stop.

“There are some agencies that after a police officer graduates from the academy they don’t do any type of force training again, and that’s a scary thought,” Landers said.

Taylor also wants to further change shooting investigations. She is proposing an additional two bills that would require cases to be reviewed by a special prosecutor rather than by the district attorney. Another bill would ensure outside investigators of a shooting don’t have a prior relationship with the department they are investigating within the previous 10 years.

Rep. Taylor plans to introduce those two bills in March.