Task Force debates ‘use of force’ as Wisconsin Legislature eyes police reform

MADISON, Wis. — Three weeks in to the legislative session and lawmakers are turning to police reform.

Both the state senate and the assembly are taking ideas popularized last summer and turning them to action.

Members of the Speakers Task Force on Racial Disparities struggled to agree on defining use of force during their meeting Thursday.

Activist groups argued officers even pulling out a gun should count and be documented.

“We need to know, what steps did you take before you drew your gun?” said Rebecca Burrell, a Milwaukee activist. “I’ve had guns drawn on me by officers. There was no de-escalation, it was just intimidation. There needs to be a record of that.”

Members of law enforcement worried about the amount of paperwork that would create and whether that data would be useful for such a common practice.

“That takes them off the street,” said Chief Patrick Mitchell from the West Allis Police Department. “They’re not doing at that point what they should be doing, so I’m not convinced that a policy of reporting to the state of Wisconsin every time you unholster a weapon is good policy.”

Fred Royal, the president of the Milwaukee NAACP chapter, suggested people of color need the protection of a universal policy when they travel outside of jurisdictions with a more liberal definition of use of force.

“Driving while Black is a reality,” Royal said. “And I might travel into a rural area, and an officer may use the pulling of a weapon as a deterrent or some type of intimidation to me. Even though it may pull that officer off the street of his beat, for him to violate my constitutional rights isn’t right.”

The discussion will likely impact bipartisan bills in the state senate.

Sens. Van Wanggaard, R-Racine, Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, and Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee, have signed onto legislation that creates an independent use of force review board and protects whistleblowers who report excessive force. Other bills would ban chokeholds, require annual reporting of use of force incidents, and require publication of individual use of force policies.

One bill not gaining bipartisan steam would take money from municipalities that cut police department budgets, so if Madison cut $10,000 from the Madison Police Department the state would cut $10,000 from its aid to the city.