WPPA guidelines for police reform include expanded body cams, community policing, ‘riot penalties’

MADISON, Wis. — The state’s largest law enforcement union is putting out recommendations to guide the future of policing.

The Wisconsin Professional Police Association released a police reform initiative Wednesday called “A Blueprint for Change: Opportunities to Evolve Policing in Wisconsin.”

According to a release, the initiative requires “collaboration, understanding, bipartisanship, community involvement and, above all, action.” WPPA is Wisconsin’s largest law enforcement group with more than 10,000 members from 300 local affiliates.

The document outlines proposals in four categories: Training & Standards, Oversight & Accountability, Community Engagement & Innovation and Officer Wellness. According to WPPA, the initiative was created through discussions with lawmakers, police officers, training experts and community interest groups.

“In the last week or so, we’ve seen public discourse surrounding police become so much more polarizing,” WPPA executive director Jim Palmer said. “We can no longer allow perfection to be the enemy of progress.”

That’s why he said the WPPA is releasing the blueprint in a time when “police reform has come to the forefront of American consciousness like never before.”

The blueprint recommends statewide expectations for deescalation training and use of force and that agencies ban chock holds except in “life or death” situations. It also encourages the expansion of community policing, which Palmer said is supported by polls conducted by the association despite recent calls to defund police.

“There’s clear support for community policing in communities of color,” he said. “If anything, we need to invest more in community-oriented policing, not less.”

The guidelines also call for establishing “riot” criminal penalties for those who intentionally participate in “public violence and destruction” and a law to punish “unnecessary, racially-motivated calls to police that are intended to humiliate, harm, or harass others.”

Perhaps one of the most important points in the guide is the expansion of body-worn cameras, according to Palmer.

While Freedom Inc. has come out against body cameras in Madison, saying research shows they don’t provide actual accountability, Palmer said the equipment’s value is exemplified by the Kenosha shooting of Jacob Blake.

“That’s so important, not only for the officers doing an incredibly difficult job, but for the public and community members that are deeply impacted by these incidents,” Palmer said. “The extent we can have that evidence to demonstrate wrongdoing or appropriate action is fundamentally important to how we move forward collectively.”

A committee is looking into the feasibility of body cameras in Madison. While Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway hadn’t reviewed the WPPA’s guidelines, she said that it’s important to move forward on two fronts: police reform and rethinking what public safety looks like in the city.

“Are there other types of calls that really don’t belong with the police department, that belong with some other response?” Rhodes-Conway said.

She said the city is working with the county to set up a non-police response to people experiencing behavioral health crises and is also focused on closing the racial gap when it comes to wealth and housing.

With the division in the community, Rhodes-Conway said it’s more important than ever to listen and show empathy.

“Out of that will come the solutions we need, and we’ll be able to start to repair the trust that’s been broken and start to combat some of the fear people are feeling,” she said.

Following the common council passing an independent police monitor and civilian oversight board early Wednesday morning, Rhodes-Conway said she was happy with the outcome. She said they were the top two of nearly 200 recommendations from the ad hoc committee looking into police policy and procedure.

WPPA’s blueprint also talks about expanding civilian oversight by increasing the size of police and fire commissions and including appointees recommended by NAACP, Centro Hispano and local police and fire associations. In the creation of Madison’s new civilian oversight board, independence from police influence was a main point.

Palmer said with such boards, the setup must be fair to police, and time will tell how effective Madison’s new civilian oversight board will be.