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State task force on policing to issue 17 reform recommendations; split on defining ‘excessive force’

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MADISON (WKOW) - While a jury in Minneapolis deliberated in the trial of Derek Chauvin Tuesday, a collection of activists and law enforcement professionals finalized its set of police reform recommendations in Wisconsin.

The members were part of a subcommittee on the Speaker's Task Force on Racial Disparities, formed following the August Kenosha police shooting that left Jacob Blake paralyzed.

The subcommittee is set to release 17 recommendations as soon as Wednesday morning, according to the office of task force co-chair, Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke (R-Kaukauna.)

Based on the discussions Tuesday, those recommendations will include reforms related to banning chokeholds, limiting the circumstances under which no-knock warrants can be served, creating an independent use-of-force review board, and requiring officers to intervene and report when another cop uses excessive force.

"Once control is gained, we must lower our level of force," said incoming Dane County Sheriff Kalvin Barrett. "Which is why what we saw in Minneapolis with the George Floyd death is so appalling to us."

However, the group's members could not agree on a single statewide definition of excessive force, which could complicate efforts to draft 'duty to report' bills.

The split hinged on the use of the term 'proportional,' which activists argued would more clearly define when an officer's actions exceeded the amount necessary to keep control of a situation.

Rice Lake Police Chief Steven Roux said he worried the language would cause officers in the field to second-guess themselves and could lead to situations escalating to a point where police would then end up using greater force than they otherwise would have.

"Officers have to make split second decisions and it's based upon what they have in front of them," Roux said. "If all of a sudden, we add confusion, which I believe that word would do, more people are gonna get hurt."

Milwaukee-based activist ReBecca Burrell said deferring to the law enforcement members' preferred term of "objective reasonableness" would leave the statute to open to interpretation and ultimately give police too much latitude.

"I see protection for law enforcement. We're not here to further protect law enforcement, we're here to bring accountability to the law enforcement," Burrell said.

The task force agreed to have some of its members form a work group to work with police training experts, and possibly officials in other states like New Jersey that have recently passed police accountability measures; the goal would be to find agreement on a statewide definition of excessive force.

Fred Royal from the Milwaukee NAACP chapter said he believed the task force's success will ulitmately hinge on whether such a definition can be codified into state statute.

Jim Palmer, the Executive Director of the Wisconsin Professional Police Association - the state's largest police union - agreed to an extent but added that conversation should not detract from efforts to begin turning the 17 recommendations into bill drafts.

"I don't know if I would pin the success of the entire task force effort on that issue," Palmer said. "I think it's a very important issue which is why we're gonna continue to work on it."

It's work that will ultimately determine whether a photo shoot at the end of Tuesday's meeting will commemorate the start of meaningful steps toward police reform in Wisconsin.

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A. J. Bayatpour

Reporter, WKOW 27

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