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.
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:
- Establish statewide use-of-force standards, including the principle that police should use the least amount of force necessary and deadly force only as a last resort.
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.
- Prohibit discipline of an officer for reporting a violation.
Moore said he has no problem with that, but: “I never heard of anybody disciplined for such a thing.”
- Require officers to complete at least eight hours of training on use-of-force and de-escalation techniques each year.
Moore said Janesville officers get a lot more than eight hours.
- Create a $1 million program to pay for community organizations that use evidence-based outreach and violence-interruption strategies and connect people to community supports.
“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.
- Allow lawsuits against people who unnecessarily summon police with the intent to cause harm, such as infringe on a person’s rights or causing someone to feel harassed or humiliated.
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.
- Require the Department of Justice to publish an annual report on use of force, including demographic information about those involved in each incident.
Moore welcomed such a report. He said it would probably show that police use force much less than people think.
- Prohibit no-knock search warrants.
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.
- Require an employment file for each employee.
Moore said he would wonder why a police agency isn’t already doing that.
- Require each candidate for positions as police officers or jailers to authorize their previous employer to disclose their employment files.
Moore said he won’t hire anyone without seeing their files from previous employers.