The first police reform bill since the death of George Floyd in May of 2020 passes in the Wisconsin Senate and the attorneys of Hogan Eickhoff are going to break everything down for you. According to the AP, the measures approved by the Senate create new police programs and requirements that are intended to address the outcry that continues to emanate from Floyd’s tragic death. The bills in question, which some believe don’t go far enough in the right direction, head next to the state Assembly to await their fate. If you find yourself on the wrong side of a criminal charge, you need the professional legal counsel of an experienced Wisconsin criminal defense attorney in your corner.

What the Proposal Addresses

The proposals that were approved by the Senate – if they pass – will accomplish all of the following:

  • They will create a new grant program for the police.
  • They will require that the police post their policies regarding the use of force online.
  • They will require the Wisconsin Justice Department to collect more comprehensive data related to incidents involving the use of force and to compile an annual report on the information gleaned within.
  • They will require the police to maintain and share personnel files related to the hiring process they use.
  • They will require that the police and firefighter oversight commission in Milwaukee and Madison accept member nominees who come from the police and firefighter unions.

What the Proposal Does Not Address

The bill does not directly address the use of force tactics and policies that are at the heart of the George Floyd protests. The authors of the legislation share that the bill is a step in the right direction in terms of accountability and that more bills are on the way, including a bill that bans chokeholds entirely (see below).

The Financials

The recent bill initially allocated specific sums related to police grant programs for cities of specific sizes ($600,000 for cities of at least 60,000). The chamber, however, removed these dollar amounts and made smaller cities (cities of at least 30,000) eligible. Finally, it was established that the Legislature would include dollar amounts when it gets to work revising the state’s 2021-2023 budget.

The Background

The bill at hand is the first to address police reform since the death of George Floyd in May of 2020. Mr. Floyd – a black man – died after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee into Mr. Floyd’s neck – in what is known as a chokehold – for more than nine minutes. The incident stunned the nation and ignited protests – that brought thousands to the streets in the middle of a pandemic that had us in virtual lockdown – across the country and left many calling for a closer accounting of the systemic racism that runs through the fabric of our nation. In 2020, Tony Evers, the state’s Democratic governor, called two special sessions of the Legislature to address police reform in response to George Floyd’s death, but the Republican legislators declined to convene. Ultimately, Robin Vos, the Assembly Speaker, created a racial disparities task force to better address the staggering issues involved.

Chokehold Ban

The police officer responsible for Floyd’s death lost his job and was ultimately found guilty of murder. Since that event, similar tragedies, including in the State of Wisconsin, have drawn more careful attention to police policies, especially as they relate to the use of force, and have sparked calls for change. Just this month (June 2021), the Wisconsin Senate passed a bill that bans chokehold entirely (barring those instances in which the officer fears for his or her life or in which a chokehold is used in self-defense). In equal measure, the bill approved an attempt to quash the defunding of police.

The Specifics

The chokehold bill, which was approved in June, bars Wisconsin police departments from authorizing chokeholds in those policies that specifically address (in detail) how and when force is allowed. While critics believe chokeholds should be unilaterally barred, supporters maintain that the exception for self-defense is a reasonable allowance and that the ban – as it stands – will nearly eliminate the dangerous hold’s usage. Many cities throughout the state – including Milwaukee, which has no chokehold exceptions for self-defense – have already implemented their own policies banning chokeholds. Further, law enforcement training throughout the state no longer teaches chokeholds as a compliance technique.

The Governor Weighs In

Although Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers proposed an outright chokehold ban soon after Floyd’s death last year, he has taken a less strict stance more recently, which is in keeping with the current bill. Governor Evers has ordered law enforcement agencies throughout the state to update their policies related to the use of force to prohibit chokeholds in all situations – other than as a last resort.

An Additional Bill

Another bipartisan, related bill that recently passed among widespread support requires all of the following:

  • That law enforcement agencies specify when the use of force by officers must be reported
  • That law enforcement agencies specify how the use of force should be reported
  • That law enforcement agents who engage in or observe the use of force must report it
  • That disciplining an officer for reporting use-of-force violations is prohibited

All told, the State of Wisconsin is moving forward with policies, practices, and procedures in direct response to George Floyd’s death last year.

An Experienced Wisconsin Criminal Defense Attorney Can Help

If a criminal charge has been levied against you, the accomplished criminal defense attorneys at Hogan Eickhoff in Wisconsin understand the gravity of your situation and are committed to employing the full strength of their impressive experience and legal insight in pursuit of your case’s favorable resolution. Our practice focuses solely on criminal defense, which means we have the experience, commitment, and drive that you are looking for. To learn more about what we can do to help you or to schedule a free consultation, please don’t hesitate to contact us at (920) 450-9800.