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Lawmakers propose bipartisan bills to ban police chokeholds, increase use of force transparency
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Lawmakers propose bipartisan bills to ban police chokeholds, increase use of force transparency

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A bipartisan package of bills unveiled Wednesday aims to ban the use of chokeholds by Wisconsin police officers and increase transparency on other uses of force.

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Several of the bills, presented for co-sponsorship Wednesday, are similar to legislation called for last summer by Gov. Tony Evers during ongoing protests across the state related to police violence. Rather than take up the governor’s proposals at the time, the GOP-led Legislature launched a task force to conduct further research on the topic.

The seven bills were drafted by Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Committee chairperson Sen. Van Wanggaard, R-Racine, the committee’s Democratic ranking member Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee, and Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills. The senators said the bills were crafted with input from law enforcement and police accountability advocates.

“Increasing accountability and transparency for the police, while also increasing community involvement is something we all can agree on,” Wanggaard, a former police officer, said in a statement.

The package of bills would:

  • Create an independent advisory board to analyze use-of-force incidents by police and provide recommendations on how to prevent them.
  • Establish whistleblower protections and mandatory use-of-force reporting requirements for police.
  • Create a $600,000 grant program, administered by the Department of Justice, for cities with 60,000 residents or more to fund community-oriented policing programs.
  • Require the publication of use-of-force policies.
  • Create an annual report for use-of-force incidents.
  • Prohibit the use of chokeholds by police except in life-threatening situations or in self defense.
  • Expand the Madison Police and Fire Commission and Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission, create hiring requirements and oversight for police chiefs in those cities in the event that the mayor fails to fill a vacancy and create an executive director or independent monitor position over those respective entities.

“I have long been an advocate for police reform and the move to more community policing,” Taylor said. “These bills are a strong step forward.”

An eighth bill proposed by Wanggaard but not included in the bipartisan package would reduce state funds to any municipality that decreases funding for the hiring, training and retention of officers.

Funds would be reduced by the amount that police funding is cut, unless those funds are transferred to another local unit of government for the intended purpose of sharing law enforcement responsibilities. Any state aid dollars cut from a municipality would be redistributed to other communities that do not reduce their law enforcement budgets.

While the use of chokeholds is not explicitly banned in Wisconsin, training standards call for officers not to use them, Jim Palmer, executive director of the Wisconsin Professional Police Association, said last summer. WPPA is not opposed to a statewide ban, he added.

WPPA released a series of proposals in September that also includes support for statewide tracking of officer discipline, whistleblower protections for officers when they report wrongdoing, and other measures to regulate law enforcement licensing and hiring practices.

Several proposals in the most recent package, including the prohibition on chokeholds and creation and publication of use-of-force policies, were proposed last June by Evers and Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes.

In August, following the police shooting of 29-year-old Jacob Blake, a Black man, in Kenosha, Evers called on the GOP-led Legislature to meet in special session to take up the package of eight police-reform bills introduced two months earlier.

Republicans ultimately refused to debate the Democratic governor’s bills, although Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, created a task force to examine public safety and police policies and standards to review the legislation and potentially develop other ideas to address police accountability. The bipartisan committee is co-chaired by Rep. Shelia Stubbs, D-Madison, and Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke, R-Kaukauna.

Steineke said in an email Wednesday the latest proposal “will be reviewed and discussed to see if there is consensus among our diverse committee on any of the policies they announced.”

The offices of Vos, Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu, R-Oostburg, and Evers did not respond to a request for comment on if they would support the proposed measures.

On Thursday, the task force’s subcommittee on law enforcement policies and standards will hold a public meeting to discuss use-of-force policies and training by academy recruits and crisis intervention training and body cameras. The meeting is scheduled for 10 a.m. at the Capitol.

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