Governor Signs Four Police Reform Bills; Legislature Considering Several More

On June 22, Governor Tony Evers (D) signed into law four bills related to law enforcement use of force and community relations:

  • Senate Bill 121: Prohibits law enforcement agencies from authorizing the use of choke holds by officers except in life-threatening situations or in self-defense. Enacted as 2021 Act 48
  • Senate Bill 122: Requires law enforcement agencies to make their use of force policy available online, and to provide a free copy of the policy upon request within three business days. Enacted as 2021 Act 49
  • Senate Bill 123: Requires the Department of Justice to collect data on use of force incidents from law enforcement agencies and to publish an annual report. Enacted as 2021 Act 50
  • Senate Bill 124: Creates a grant program, administered by the Department of Justice, to fund community-oriented policing-house programs in cities with a population of 30,000 or more. Enacted as 2021 Act 51

These bills were part of the “Public Safety PACT,” a package of eight bills introduced in February by Senator Van Wanggaard (R-Racine). All the bills except for SB 119 were co-sponsored by Senators Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) and Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee). Senate Bills 121, 122, and 123 are modified versions of policies that were previously recommended by Gov. Evers and the Legislative Black Caucus.

The remaining four PACT bills, Senate Bills 117, 118, 119, and 120, are in various stages of consideration before the Legislature. On June 30, the Senate re-approved SB 120 after it had been modified by the Assembly to adjust the bill’s language related to whistleblowers. The bill sets standards for when it is permissible for law enforcement officers to use force and requires officers to intervene and report when they see a colleague use force inappropriately. The Legislature can now send SB 120 to the governor for his consideration.

Law enforcement reform has become a key political issue in Wisconsin since the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha on August 24, 2020, as we first covered here.

Speaker’s Task Force Releases Report on Law Enforcement Policies; Assembly Passes Package Reform Bills

The four police reform bills signed by Gov. Evers on June 22 were also among the recommendations made by the Speaker’s Task Force on Racial Disparities, which was convened by Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) in August 2020. The task force, co-chaired by Representatives Jim Steineke (R-Kaukauna) and Shelia Stubbs (D-Madison), consists of 32 members of the public including law enforcement professionals, community and religious leaders, activists, and others.

On April 21, the task force’s Subcommittee on Law Enforcement Policies and Standards released its final report including recommended reforms to laws and policies regulating law enforcement in Wisconsin. On June 16, the Assembly passed a series of bills, introduced by Reps. Steineke and Stubbs, intended to implement some of the subcommittee’s recommendations:

  • Assembly Bill 329: Requires the Wisconsin Department of Justice (DOJ) to collect and report data on the use of no-knock warrants by Wisconsin police.
  • Assembly Bill 330: Requires school resource officers to undergo specialized training.
  • Assembly Bill 331: Requires prospective law enforcement officers to submit to a psychological examination.
  • Assembly Bill 332: Requires law enforcement officers to complete four hours of crisis management training every two years.
  • Assembly Bill 333: Increases grants for communities to establish and enhance collaboration between law enforcement agencies and behavioral health services.
  • Assembly Bill 334: Requires law enforcement officers involved in critical incidents to undergo drug testing.
  • Assembly Bill 335: Requires DOJ to award grants to law enforcement agencies for the purchase of body-worn cameras.

These bills have been forwarded to the Senate where they await further legislative action.