Gov. Tony Evers on Wednesday ordered the Wisconsin State Patrol and other state law enforcement agencies to update their use-of-force policies to prohibit chokeholds, unless as a last resort, after the Assembly’s bipartisan racial disparities task force issued 18 recommendations to address policing practices statewide.
The task force, created after a white Kenosha police officer shot a Black man last summer, stopped short of calling for a total ban on chokeholds and no-knock warrants as Evers first called for last year after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody. It was unclear how many of their recommendations would win approval by the Legislature and be signed into law by Evers.
But Evers sidestepped the Legislature with his executive order, which applies only to the State Patrol, Capitol Police and the Department of Natural Resources Division of Public Safety and Resource Protection. He ordered those agencies to review and update their use-of-force policies to specify that deadly force, including chokeholds, only be used as a last resort.
Evers, a Democrat, also ordered that de-escalation tactics be used and officers should intervene to prevent or stop excessive force by another officer. He also required that all officers report when they’ve used force and he provided a protection against discipline for officers who witness excessive force and report it or attempt to intervene.
“We’re getting to work here on the state level to make sure we’re leading by example and setting the bar in Wisconsin,” Evers said in a statement. “Wisconsinites across our state are demanding action and meaningful, systemic change — this is a critically important step, but it can’t be the last.”
Evers did not comment specifically on the recommendations from the task force, which are expected to be put forward as bills for the Legislature to consider in the coming weeks.
Evers has pushed the Republican-controlled Legislature to take other steps, but they ignored nine bills he introduced last year. Evers is also proposing policing changes in his state budget, which is pending before the Legislature.
Republican legislative leaders, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, and Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu, R-Oostburg, had no immediate comment on the Evers order.
It came hours after the Assembly’s racial justice task force, which included Democrats, representatives from law enforcement, community groups, activists and others, issued its recommendations.
That group could not reach consensus on how to define what constitutes excessive police use of force for the purposes of creating a statewide definition, although it recommended there be a statewide standard. Evers last year also proposed creating a statewide definition that would apply to all law enforcement agencies, not just those under his control.
The task force did recommend calling for law enforcement agencies to make their use-of-force policies available online, standardize the reporting of use-of-force incidents to the state and require crisis management training for all law enforcement officers.
Other recommendations include:
- Requiring a duty for police officers to intervene in instances where another officer is using excessive force and to report that to a superior officer.
- Requiring police officers working in schools to receive some specific training for that assignment.
- Mandating a psychological examination as a condition of employment for a law enforcement officer.
- Requiring drug and alcohol testing for any officer involved in an incident that causes a death or serious injury.
The task force called for collecting data from federal, state and local law enforcement agencies to determine how often no-knock warrants are used. And while it said chokeholds should be banned, it said they should still be allowed in “life-threatening situations or in self-defense.”
Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke, R-Kaukauna, co-chair of the task force, said in an interview Tuesday that he hoped to move “as quick as practicable” on drafting bills based on the recommendations, with public hearings next month and June votes in the Assembly. The bills must also pass the GOP-controlled Senate and be signed by Evers to become law.
The panel’s other co-chair, Rep. Shelia Stubbs, D-Madison, had been critical of Republican leaders for not taking up bills to address police practices and racial disparities. But Stubbs, who is Black, said she was optimistic the recommendations would get traction.
“We just gotta get to that place where we get something done for the people across the state,” Stubbs said.
Vos created the task force in August, after the Legislature ignored nine proposals Evers put forward in June and after a white Kenosha police officer shot Jacob Blake, who is Black, leaving him paralyzed.
Steineke took heat earlier this year when emails revealed he thought the job of co-chairing the task force was a “political loser.” Steineke said in an email to Vos that the task force provided a chance to “show how Evers could get things done if his admin weren’t so ... political.”