In the wake of a Kenosha police officer shooting a Black man in the back Sunday, state government has two opportunities to review and reform how law enforcement operates.
It should do both.
Gov. Tony Evers has called for a special session of the Legislature to take up his police reform proposals, which include establishing statewide use-of-force standards.
Yes, it should do that.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos has announced a task force focusing on racial disparities, educational opportunities, public safety, and police policies and standards.
It should do that, too.
While the Vos proposal calls for more study, Evers is proposing action.
It’s hard to imagine why any legislators would have a problem with the measures outlined in the governor’s proposal. Local law enforcement doesn’t have a problem with them and, in fact, already are doing many of the things outlined in the governor’s proposal.
Janesville Police Chief Dave Moore said many of Evers’ proposals are already in place in Janesville, and he supports them in large part.
Evers’ proposals include:
Establishing 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.
Prohibiting discipline of an officer for reporting a violation.
Requiring officers to complete at least eight hours of training on use-of-force and de-escalation techniques each year.
Requiring the state Department of Justice to publish an annual report on use of force, including demographic information about those involved in each incident.
Requiring an employment file for each employee and requiring police officer candidates to authorize their previous employer to disclose their employment files.
We used this space in June after George Floyd’s death to call for local police to review their use-of-force policies. Our review of local policies had revealed some gaps.
The Milton Police Department policy, for example, says choke holds are not permitted except in a “deadly force situation.”
Moore said Janesville officers for years have been trained on the use of choke holds, but it wasn’t addressed in the department’s use-of-force policies. Now it is. The department changed its policies in recent weeks to address choke holds, strikes to the neck and other similar measures.
We suspect not all other police departments—large and small—across Wisconsin have taken such a proactive approach. If the Legislature adopts none of Evers’ other proposals, it should at least approve statewide use-of-force standards.
The task force announced by Vos has a broader mission, part of which is to examine police policies and standards. No doubt the work of the task force will take months. We hope it yields helpful insights.
In the meantime, the Legislature should convene and take up what Evers has proposed.
This editorial was changed Aug. 30, 2020, to correct the status of Janesville Police Department policies on choke holds.