Some local police officials welcome Gov. Tony Evers’ police reform proposals, but one questions whether they are the solution to recent incidents in which police actions have led to death or injury among Black people nationwide.
Evers renewed his call to pass the proposals Monday after a Kenosha police officer repeatedly shot a Black man in an incident Sunday, prompting rage, protests and rioting.
Evers has called for a special legislative session to take up his proposals. It’s not clear how far he will get with the Republican-dominated Legislature.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos responded by announcing a task force focusing on racial disparities, educational opportunities, public safety, and police policies and standards.
Janesville Police Chief Dave Moore said many of Evers’ proposals are already in place in Janesville, and he supports them in large part.
“But I don’t know it’s going to get law enforcement agencies to where they want to be because it’s all about culture. It’s all about caring for others,” Moore said.
“I think what is effective is hiring very good people, providing them very good training, equipment, policy and supervision, all in an effort to develop this culture, this shared vision, that honors the sanctity of life and a belief in treating everyone with respect and using force appropriately,” Moore said.
“It’s going to take good police leadership to get you there,” Moore said, noting that leaders set the tone for what is acceptable behavior.
One of the governor’s proposals is a ban on chokeholds.
Area lawmakers are divided on how to proceed after Gov. Tony Evers called for a special legislative session aimed at police reform.
Chief Deputy Craig Strouse said deputies have not used chokeholds during his 26 years at the Rock County Sheriff’s Office, but he could see a rare situation when the holds are justified.
Strouse, a former jail commander, said a jailer faced with deadly force should be able to use a chokehold in self defense: “If they’re getting stabbed, they should be able to choke somebody, know what I mean?”
Moore said many of the proposals are in effect in his department, including a prohibition on chokeholds, which is part of training but not spelled out in policy.
Asked for comment, Beloit Police Chief David Zibolski issued a statement: ““I support reasonable legislation that will create better transparency with the public and ensure appropriate accountability and training of our law enforcement professionals.”
Zibolski said he is hopeful that “sound legislation” will be adopted.
Strouse said he is “extremely” comfortable with the sheriff’s office policies on use of force, but if the public sees problems, then something needs to change.
Sheriff Troy Knudson, who was not available for comment Tuesday, has been a leader in use-of-force training and would be a valuable resource for lawmakers, Strouse said.
Among Evers’ proposals:
Moore said that’s already a part of training for Janesville officers, although it’s not spelled out in policy.
The state already has policies that worked well for years and that all agencies should be using, Moore said.
Moore said he has no problem with that, but: “I never heard of anybody disciplined for such a thing.”
Moore said Janesville officers get a lot more than eight hours.
“We’d welcome that. That’s right in line with what I set out in our gun-violence directives to the officers,” Moore said.
Connecting people to community supports is something police do all day long, Moore added.
Moore said police deal with calls from people who find that Black youths playing in a park is suspicious, for example, because the complainants have an unconscious bias against Blacks.
Officers will respond, determine there’s no threat and suggest politely to the complainer that the call wouldn’t have been made except for the skin color involved, Moore said.
The complainers were wrong, but their call to police was not an intentional attempt to cause harm because they didn’t understand their own bias, Moore said, so lawmakers should take care with how the law would be worded.
Moore welcomed such a report. He said it would probably show that police use force much less than people think.
Moore doesn’t like no-knock raids, which he said could endanger officers or residents, but in some circumstances, it could be the right thing to do.
He suggested the law could be tightened, requiring judges to apply higher standards for approving no-knock warrants.
Moore said he would wonder why a police agency isn’t already doing that.
Moore said he won’t hire anyone without seeing their files from previous employers.
Kyle Kelly was cruising on his mountain bike through the wooded trails of Sheiffer Park on Janesville’s northeast side on Saturday evening when he rounded a bend and saw it.
A big cat. A cougar, he thinks.
“At first, I thought it was a dog. But it had really big haunches and shoulders, and a low-set back, with muscled shoulders that were really big and rounded off. It was running low to the ground, almost like a belly crawl, like an Army crawl,” Kelly said.
“I’ve never seen a dog move like that before. And then it just ghosted. No noise or anything. It just disappeared.”
Kelly, a Janesville resident and former UW-Whitewater ecology and field biology student, said he has seen plenty of deer and small game while biking the web of trails in the hilly, wooded Sheiffer Park. But never a big cat.
It’s the second reported cougar sighting this month in Rock County. It comes after a Beloit city worker Aug. 15 reported seeing a big cat in Big Hill Park on Beloit’s far north side.
This one, Kelly said, was an 80-pound animal with a buff-tan coat and a long, ropy tail. Kelly was close enough he could nearly touch the animal before it vanished into underbrush next to the backyards of homes along Wuthering Hills and Windmill Lane on Sheiffer Park’s south edge.
He’d been riding his bike on a network of single-track, unpaved trails that have been in the wooded park for years. Kelly said he saw the animal a few blocks east of the park’s new, paved bike trail the city opened in the park this year.
Kelly believes he startled the animal because it scrambled to get away from him and into the underbrush. He saw no other signs of it as he finished up his bike ride.
Kelly reported the sighting to the state Department of Natural Resources, according to the agency’s records. He told The Gazette he posted the sighting on Facebook because he wanted to alert residents who live next to Sheiffer Park about what he had seen.
Randy Johnson, a Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources large carnivores expert, said because Kelly couldn’t supply a photograph or other evidence of his sighting his report would likely get logged as “unverified.”
Johnson said that is how many such big cat sightings, including the recent sighting reported earlier this month in Beloit, end up being classified.
Johnson said the DNR has logged 12 verified cougar sightings this year, most of them in central and northern Wisconsin. However, Johnson said there have been verified sightings of large cats near the wooded Kettle Moraine area west of Milwaukee.
While cougar sightings in Rock County are infrequent, they’re not unheard of.
In spring 2008, two men reported spotting a cougar leap from the shadows inside a hay mow in rural Milton. That cougar left behind tracks, traces of blood and DNA that authorities matched with a cougar police shot and killed later that year after they spotted it running loose on Chicago’s north side.
A Janesville resident in 2014 provided photos that showed what appeared to be a big cat with a long tail running near woods by houses on the city’s south side.
Johnson said the DNR has determined most reported sightings this year are clustered geographically, which makes it likely it is one or two cougars on the move throughout a region.
Johnson said the DNR considers most cougars spotted from Wisconsin to be from enclaves in the Black Hills and Badlands areas of South Dakota.
He said the mountain lions people see here tend to be young animals on the roam. They’ve been pushed out of western territories by other lions, and they’ve moved east and south through Minnesota and Wisconsin’s mix of woods and farm fields in search of food or mates.
Despite dozens of sightings reported statewide each year, the DNR says it has found no evidence that cougars have a breeding population in Wisconsin.
Johnson, a cougar expert who spent time tracking and studying cougars in South Dakota and Minnesota, said a wooded, hilly area like Sheiffer Park likely has enough cover for a cougar to inhabit.
He said if the animal Kelly spotted was a cougar, it likely was passing through.
Within a few days, a big cat might travel 50 or more miles from where someone spotted it. He said cougars are known to tolerate people nearby, but they typically remain out of sight during the day, hidden in underbrush.
They’re more active at night—or near dusk, which was the time of day when Kelly said he saw the animal.
“They’re just trying to find suitable habitat, day to day. So they’ll end up in a little park or a little ravine. Sometimes, they end up in town, and then we’ve all seen those types of things where they’re a running down Main Street or up somebody’s yard. That’s usually just because the cat made a mistake—they took a left when they should’ve turned right. They normally want to get away from people as fast as they can.”
Johnson said the DNR wants people to report cougar sightings as Kelly did. It can help the agency track the cougar population through the state and learn more about mountain lions’ habits or patterns of migration.
Jim Dowd, a former Gazette reporter, lives along the south edge of Sheiffer Park next to the park’s unpaved trails, where Kelly said he spotted the big cat.
Dowd said he has seen plenty of rabbits but no sign of anything bigger in the woods.
Yet, Dowd pointed out that ever since the city completed the new, paved bike trail through the park last year, fewer people seem to use the park’s older, unpaved trails.
Dowd said it wouldn’t surprise him if a big cat found those old trails a quiet, cozy place.
“Maybe it’s still out there,” Dowd said. “If it is, I hope I see it.”
Lucas A. Burns
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Details apparently haven’t been released publicly, but Kwik Trip is proposing a new gas station and grocery store at the site of a former grocery store on Janesville’s east side.
According to a city of Janesville public notice, Kwik Trip is hosting a neighborhood meeting “regarding the proposed Kwik Trip store Sept. 3 at the former Maurer’s Foods, 2822 E. Milwaukee Street.”
Kwik Trip shared with the city an invitation letter the company had sent to nearby neighbors of the former Maurer’s Market for a meeting at Maurer’s Market to share “preliminary design plans” for a proposed “Kwik Trip convenience/neighborhood grocery store” at the former Maurer’s Market property, city Planning Director Duane Cherek confirmed in an email to The Gazette.
The property could include a “fuel canopy, a car wash and a separate beer and liquor room,” Cherek wrote.
Cherek said Kwik Trip is hosting the meeting, which is planned at 6 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 3.
A Kwik Trip spokesman on Tuesday did not immediately provide The Gazette details about the meeting or the proposed project.
The meeting is intended to give neighbors near the former Maurer’s Market a first-blush look at Kwik Trip’s plans. City staff or local elected officials will make no official decisions at the forum.
The meeting was given public notice by the city because city staff plans to attend to observe the community input and offer answers to zoning questions, Cherek indicated.
Cherek said Kwik Trip has not submitted a formal development plan for the project.
The proposal comes after Kwik Trip announced last month it was buying all 36 stores operated by Stop-N-Go, including two stations at 1804 and 3515 E. Milwaukee St. Those stations are located about a mile apart, and the former Maurer’s Market building is located between them.
A Kwik Trip spokesman in July said Kwik Trip had not decided whether it would rebrand all its Stop-N-Go stores, and it’s not clear what the company’s plans are for the two Stop-N-Go stores on East Milwaukee Street.
Maurer’s Market closed in December, about a year and a half after owner Jeff Maurer bought the grocery business from Daniels Sentry. Daniels Sentry had continued to own the building.
In April, a few months after Maurer’s Market closed, Daniels Sentry sold the building to Maurer for $1.1 million, according to state property transfer records.
Tax records on the city’s website show Maurer continues to own the property.
Kwik Trip said earlier this year it has begun to launch plans for stores that are larger than ones it developed in years past.
The company already plans to build an 8,000-square-foot convenience store and car wash on Humes Road just west of the Target store on Janesville’s northeast side.
The former Maurer’s Market is about 30,000 square feet.
Kwik Trip hasn’t given details of whether it intends to build a larger-format or hybrid store.