Evers Promises To Sign Police Bills, Calls For More

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Gov. Tony Evers promised to sign bills banning chokeholds and making other policing changes passed by the state Assembly on Wednesday, while also calling on lawmakers to go farther to make law enforcement more accountable and transparent.

Evers said he would sign four bills that passed with bipartisan support. The Assembly failed to vote on a fifth bill as scheduled that would set a statewide use of force policy for police, and extend protections for officers who report abuses. It was stalled due to objections from the Milwaukee police union and despite winning broad bipartisan support in the Senate.

The measure was the only one out of a dozen policing measures that failed to pass the Assembly on a day when lawmakers praised bipartisan efforts to address concerns about racial justice and how law enforcement interacts with minority populations.

Evers promised to sign the bill that bans chokeholds, except in self defense, and another measure that requires the reporting of incidents when use of force was used. He also said he would sign measures requiring the posting of use of force policies online and creating a community policing grant program.

Evers called on the Legislature to pass a host of other bills that would require training on de-escalation techniques; allow for people to be sued for calling the police with the intent to infringe on another person's constitutional rights; sand end $1 million to community organizations dedicated to conflict resolution and violence avoidance.

Meanwhile, work continued behind the scenes on a key bill the Assembly had scheduled to pass Wednesday but did not.

Republican Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke, who co-sponsored the bill, said he was working with the Milwaukee Police Association to address their concerns and was confident the measure would be voted on at a later date.

“Today was not the end of the process,” Steineke said. “If it was, then yeah, I would be disappointed.

The bill, which the Senate passed last week 30-2, creates a statewide use-of-force standard and a duty to report and a duty to intervene in certain situations in which a law enforcement officer observes another officer failing to comply with the statewide use-of-force standard.

It makes it a misdemeanor for a police officer who intentionally fails to report noncompliant use of force or who fails to intervene to stop such use of force. It also provides whistleblower protections to officers who report when another officer may have violated use of force policies.

One issue that Steineke said the police union had was when it would take effect. He said the MPA wanted to delay the start date to give them more time to train officers on the changes.

The police union did not immediately return a message seeking comment.

Other bills the Assembly passed Wednesday on bipartisan voice votes would require police departments to report information about how often no-knock warrants are authorized and executed; create statewide standards and require training for police officers stationed in schools; require prospective police officers to pass a psychological exam before being hired; and mandate four hours of crisis management training for police officers every two years designed to help de-escalate situations involving people with mental illness.

All of those bills now go to the Senate.

Democratic Rep. Shelia Stubbs, who is Black, and Steineke, who is white, praised the bipartisan work of the task force they led and the bills that grew out of it. Steineke acknowledged that some wanted the bills to go farther, while others thought they weren't doing enough.

“It’s a good start," Steineke said. “It’s not too often in this body we’re able to bring together very different viewpoints on a single topic and find consensus on those issues.”

Democrats faulted Republicans for not taking action sooner, including ignoring a special session call from Evers last year to pass a variety of police reform measures, and not taking more forceful steps like banning no-knock warrants.

“We could do more,” said Democratic Rep. David Bowen, of Milwaukee, who is Black. “We are not allowed to have that bipartisanship because it is too controversial.”

The bills are working their way through the Legislature a year after George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis. Floyd, who was Black, died after white police Officer Derek Chauvin pressed his knee into his neck for 9 minutes, 29 seconds. Chauvin lost his job and was found guilty of murder. Numerous other shootings of Black people by white police officers across the country, including in Wisconsin, have placed greater attention on policing policies and accelerated calls for change.