Republican Senators Offer 8 Police Bills

One requires cities in Wisconsin to maintain current police funding or lose state aid.

By , Wisconsin Justice Initiative - Aug 30th, 2020 03:31 pm
Milwaukee Police Department. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Milwaukee Police Department. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Municipalities would be required to maintain police funding at current levels or lose state aid, under a package of police-related bills to be introduced by Sen. Van Wanggaard (R-Racine).

The requirement would have a devastating impact on local governments that are under enormous economic stress because of revenue lost during the coronavirus pandemic.

Gov. Tony Evers called the Legislature into session on Monday to consider his nine-bill police reform package. Wanggard responded Thursday by announcing eight police-related bills of his own. State Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) is a co-sponsor on all eight bills and Rep. Janel Brandtjen, (R-Menomonee Falls) is a co-sponsor of a bill dealing with the makeup and operation of Milwaukee and Madison fire and police commissions, according to the Racine County Eye.

Below are the Legislative Reference Bureau’s summaries of the Wanggaard bills.

Bill 1: This bill creates an independent use of force review advisory board. Under the bill, the board conducts independent investigations of deaths and serious injuries to law enforcement officers and deaths and serious injuries to others resulting from an action or omission of a law enforcement officer. The board must recommend measures to reduce the probabilities of deaths and serious injuries from similar causes and must also review its previous recommendations to determine if they were implemented and evaluate their effectiveness.

Under the bill, if the board conducts an investigation of an incident involving an officer that resulted in death or a serious injury, its investigation may begin only after any mandatory or criminal investigation concludes. The bill grants the board access to all complete criminal and administrative investigation case files, models or renderings used in an investigation,,. The board must acquire experts and use advisors as needed to perform its duties; the experts and advisors include a certified firearms instructor, a defensive and arrest tactics instructor, an expert in cultural competency, a master instructor in professional communications, a master instructor in tactical response, a victim advocate and a mental health professional.

When the board completes an investigation, it must prepare an advisory report to be made public and be submitted to the legislature, all law enforcement agencies, and the Law Enforcement Standards Board. The report must identify events or developments that led to the officer-involved death or serious injury and make recommendations to prevent similar incidents in the future. The report must provide demographic information about each incident, share best practices used by law enforcement officers and recommend practices that the board learns when exercising its review.

Note: The makeup of the board would be heavily weighted toward law enforcement and police unions. According to the bill, the board would include 

  • (1) The director of the training and standards bureau, or his or her designee.
  • (2) One member, appointed by the Wisconsin Chiefs of Police Association.
  • (3) One member, appointed by the Badger State Sheriffs’ Association.
  • (4) One member, appointed by the Wisconsin Professional Police Association.
  • (5) One member, appointed by the Wisconsin Sheriffs and Deputy Sheriffs Association.
  • (6) One member, appointed by the Wisconsin Troopers Association.
  • (7) One member, appointed by the Milwaukee Police Association.
  • (8) One member, appointed by the Wisconsin District Attorneys Association.
  • (9) One member, appointed by the Wisconsin police executive group.
  • (10) One member, appointed by the Wisconsin training academy directors.
  • (11) An attorney specializing in criminal defense, appointed by the State Bar of Wisconsin.
  • (12) A mental health professional, appointed by the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Wisconsin.
  • (13) One member, jointly appointed by the dean of the University of Wisconsin Law School and the dean of the Marquette University Law School.

Bill 2: Current law requires each law enforcement agency to have a publicly available policy or standard regulating the use of force by law enforcement officers. This bill requires each such policy or standard to provide the instances in which a use of force must be reported, how to report a use of force, and a requirement that officers who engage in or observe a reportable use of force must report it. This bill also prohibits disciplining a law enforcement officer for reporting a violation of an agency’s policy or standard regarding the use of force.

Bill 3: Current law requires each law enforcement agency to prepare a policy regarding the use of force by its law enforcement officers and to make the policy available for public scrutiny. This bill requires the law enforcement agency to post its policy on the law enforcement agency website or, if the agency does not have one, on a site maintained by the municipality over which the law enforcement agency has jurisdiction. Under the bill, if the policy is changed, the law enforcement agency must ensure that the updated policy is posted as soon as practically possible but no later than one year after the change is made. The bill also requires a law enforcement agency to prominently post a means to request a copy of the policy and to provide a copy of the current policy at no charge as soon as practically possible, but no later than three business days after a request is made.

Bill 4: This bill makes a number of changes that affect the board of fire and police commissioners of a 1st class city (presently only Milwaukee), the board of police and fire commissioners of a 2nd class city with a population of 200,000 or more (presently only Madison) (jointly referred to as affected PFC boards), and the protective services departments of 1st class cities and 2nd class cities with a population of 200,000 or more.. The changes include altering the makeup of affected PFC boards, requiring certain training for affected PFC board members, establishing certain requirements related to hiring and oversight of chiefs of protective services departments in populous cities, creating an executive director or independent monitor position in populous cities, and altering the judicial review process for police and fire department disciplinary cases in a 1st class city.

Under current law, the board of fire and police commissioners of a 1st class city consists of seven or nine members selected by the mayor. Boards of police and fire commissioners of other cities, including a 2nd class city, consist of five members selected by the mayor. Under this bill, a board of fire and police commissioners of a 1st class city consists of nine members selected by the mayor, and confirmed by the common council. The board of a police and fire commission of a 2nd class city with a population of 200,000 or more consists of seven members selected by the mayor. Each of these boards must contain at least one member selected from a list provided by each of 1) the employee association that represents nonsupervisory law enforcement officers and 2) the employee association that represents fire fighters.

This bill provides a method for selecting members of affected PFC boards when the mayor fails to make an appointment to a vacant position. If the mayor fails to make an appointment within 120 days of the occurrence of a vacancy, the common council may make the appointment, except when the vacant position is one that must be filled from one of the lists described above. In this case, the association that provided the list may make the appointment without confirmation by the common council.

In a 1st class city, a three-member panel of the board of fire and police commissioners may conduct and decide a trial to evaluate a complaint against a member of the police or fire department. This bill specifies that when a three-member panel conducts such a trial, at least one member of the panel must have professional law enforcement experience if the accused is a police officer, and at least one such member must have professional fire fighting experience if the accused is a fire fighter.

The bill also requires each member of an affected PFC board to take a training class provided by the city in which it operates. The training class must cover the mission and role of the board, the procedures that apply to disciplinary hearings, the conduct policies of the police and fire departments, and use of force guidelines of the police department. A member may not participate in any action of the board until he or she completes the training class and any other training required by the city.

The bill also creates the office of executive director in a 1st class city and the office of independent monitor in a 2nd class city with a population of 200,000 or more. Despite the different titles, these positions have the same duties and requirements. This person acts as the principal staff of an affected PFC board, reviews certain situations or investigations involving the police or fire department, evaluates police and fire department policies and practices, and issues periodic reports to the public relating to the status and outcome of complaints that have been filed. The executive director or independent monitor is appointed by the mayor and confirmed by the common council and serves a four-year term, at the pleasure of the board.

This bill also specifies the following related to affected PFC boards:

​1. When an affected PFC board appoints a protective services chief, the board must meet in closed session with representatives of the employee association whose members will serve under the proposed chief.

2. When an affected PFC board appoints a protective services chief, the board must hold at least two public meetings to hear comments from residents of the city and other interested persons.

3. When a member is appointed to an affected PFC board, the common council must hold two public hearings that include public comment periods with regard to the appointments.

4. If an affected PFC board accepts an additional application for chief of police after the application period for accepting these applications has closed, the board must reopen the application period for an additional seven days.

5. If the common council adopts a resolution by a two-thirds majority to conduct a performance review of a protective services chief, an affected PFC board must conduct the review and provide a written report to the common council.

6. A PFC board member may not continue in office after the expiration of his or her term, unless reappointed and, in a 1st class city, confirmed.

​Currently, if a board of fire and police commissioners of a 1st class city discharges, suspends, or reduces in rank an officer or member of the police or fire department, the disciplined person may appeal that decision to a circuit court. This bill specifies the scope of review under which a court is to review an appeal of this sort. Under the bill, a court must review the evidence independently and without deference to the board’s findings; must reverse the board’s decision if it finds that fairness or correctness of the action has been impaired by material or procedural errors; and must set aside or modify the board’s decision if it finds that the board erroneously interpreted a provision of law, or may remand the case to the board for further action that is consistent with current law. The bill also requires the court to reverse the board’s decision if it finds that the board’s exercise of discretion is outside of its delegated powers; is inconsistent with a board rule, policy, or practice, unless the board’s deviation is adequately explained; or violates the constitution or the statutes. The bill also authorizes a court to take additional testimony, depositions, and interrogatories, and to grant requests for additional discovery.

Bill 5: This bill establishes a $600,000 grant program, administered by the Department of Justice, for cities with a population of 60,000 or more to fund community-oriented policing house programs.

Bill 6: Under this bill, if in any year a municipality decreases the amount of its municipal budget dedicated to hiring, training, and retaining law enforcement officers so that it is less than the amount dedicated to that purpose in the previous year, the municipality will receive a county and municipal aid payment that is reduced by the amount of that decrease. The bill provides that the amount of all such reductions will be distributed to the municipalities that did not reduce their law enforcement budgets in proportion to each municipality’s share of the total amount of county and municipal aid payments. Furthermore, the amount of the reduced payment that the municipality receives becomes the amount of county and municipal aid that the municipality will receive in subsequent years.

The reductions under the bill do not apply to a municipality that transfers responsibility for providing law enforcement to another local unit of government or that enters into a cooperative agreement to share law enforcement responsibilities with another local unit of government.

Bill 7: Current law requires law enforcement agencies to develop policies on the use of force by law enforcement officers in the performance of their duties. This bill provides that a law enforcement agency may not authorize in its use of force policy the use of choke holds by law enforcement officers, except in life threatening situations or in self-defense.

Bill 8: Current law requires the Department of Justice to collect certain information concerning criminal offenses committed in Wisconsin. This bill requires DOJ to collect data and publish an annual report on law enforcement use of force incidents, including incidents where there was a shooting, where a firearm was discharged in the direction of a person (even if there was no injury), and where other serious bodily harm resulted from the incident. The bill requires certain demographic information to be collected about each such incident, and reported annually by DOJ on its Internet site.

Gretchen Schuldt writes a blog for Wisconsin Justice Initiative, whose mission is “To improve the quality of justice in Wisconsin by educating the public about legal issues and encouraging civic engagement in and debate about the judicial system and its operation.”

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