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‘It falls far short,’ community leaders want more from police reform

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MADISON (WKOW) -- As the president takes his first step toward police reform Tuesday, leaders in Wisconsin say it's not likely to have a significant impact here.

The executive order establishes a nationwide database to track incidents involving excessive use of force and other misconduct among law enforcement officers. It also streamlines certification and credentialing processes across the US and bans chokeholds, except in cases where deadly force is allowed by law. The order calls for more training in issues of mental health, homelessness and addiction, along with guidance on implementing co-responder programs. The president also directs Congress to develop legislation on these issues.

President Trump's police reform is not enough for some community leaders. The national Urban League president called it mainly a symbolic gesture. The national NAACP issued a statement censuring the order, calling it woefully inadequate to address community concerns with police.

"It falls far short of what I would expect in the year 2020 for a progressive country like this to put in place practices, patterns, policies, that would bring sustainable change and would produce what I think these people in the street are marching about," said Greg Jones, president of NAACP's Dane County chapter.

Jones wants to see a federal hate crime law to hold officers across the country accountable for human rights violations. He says a nationwide database to track misconduct is only a small piece of what departments need when hiring new officers.

"It is a fundamental requirement that we now look at how we hire, who we hire and why we hire," he told 27 News. "It's going to have to be very intentional about digging deep into the psycho, social and cultural conditioning of those individuals that we bring on this workforce. I believe policing has changed and we just have not kept up with it."

Jones says hiring officers the community can trust, including its police leaders, could make a difference in building relationships.

Wisconsin Professional Police Association executive director Jim Palmer says the state has its own network to monitor officers, similar to the national database, which is overseen by the state Department of Justice.

"So if an officer left while they were under investigation it would be flagged in the state system. If they left in lieu of termination basically that would be flagged as well and if they were terminated for cause," Palmer said. "So there are a number of triggers, flags, for a prospective agency looking to hire a particular candidate they can refer to in order to conduct a more thorough background check."

Palmer says the big challenge has been a lack of candidates, which he anticipates will only get worse as the divide deepens in the community.

He believes the new order will streamline policies across the US, but he doesn't anticipate Wisconsin will see a significant change based just off those measures.

State police agencies already teach officers to avoid chokeholds, for example, which is one of the more concrete actions mentioned in the order.

Palmer says he supports the idea of demilitarization of police, but doesn't think defunding is the answer.

"Communities of color, in particular, place a very high value on community-oriented policing," he said. "So any time you talk about imposing reductions to police spending at the local level, I think it's important for people to recognize programs like community-oriented policing will be the first to fall by the wayside."

He hopes as the conversations about change continue, they'll go beyond just law enforcement, to focus on the root of problems that lead to police intervention in our community.

"I think most people recognize that the issue of racial bias in America and in Wisconsin is a systemic problem. Right now, the focus has been on law enforcement and I think that's not necessarily inappropriate, but we do need to broaden the scope of that discussion."

For Jones, the biggest potential for change will come from our local leaders adapting to their community's needs, rather than the federal government.

He says while he's seen a lot of movements pushing to end racism over the years, the difference now is the images of George Floyd's death will not be forgotten.

"This is the first time I can recall where people didn't just hear about it, didn't just read about it. They saw. And when the sense of sight affects the brain in a way that that event did, I don't think they're going to forget about," he said. "So I think there's gonna be quite a bit of continuity in terms of follow up and the advocacy around people in the street."

Jones says he'll be pushing Dane County leaders to find new accountability measures for police, like a countywide community review board. Plus, a focus on restorative justice programs.

Jennifer Kliese

Weekend Anchor and Reporter, 27 News

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