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Gov. Evers orders special session for police reform legislation

Published: Aug. 24, 2020 at 1:50 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers is ordering the state legislature back to Madison for a special session to take up police reform legislation he introduced earlier this year. The move comes following the shooting of a Black man, Jacob Blake, by a Kenosha police officer.

“We must begin the long but important path toward ensuring our state and our country start to live up to our promises of equity and justice,” Evers said.

The Democratic governor was joined by Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes for livestream Monday to announce the executive order, requiring lawmakers to meet. The session is set to start at noon on August 31.

“I am urging the Legislature to rise to this occasion and give this special session the urgent and productive effort this moment demands and that the people of Wisconsin deserve,” the governor continued.

Evers initially introduced his plan back in June following the death of George Floyd, who died in police custody in Minneapolis, and the subsequent protests. (Breakdown of the proposals is listed below)

The shooting happened at around 5 p.m. Sunday and was captured from across the street on cellphone video that was posted online.

In the footage, Blake walks from the sidewalk around the front of his SUV to his driver-side door as officers follow him with their guns pointed and shout at him. As Blake opens the door and leans into the SUV, an officer grabs his shirt from behind and opens fire while Blake has his back turned.

During the news conference, Barnes said the footage is now etched into his mind.

“This was not an accident, this felt like some sort of vendetta taken out on a member of our community,” he said.

Barnes called the legislation a first step, but added that “doing nothing is not an option.”

Sunday night’s shooting led to violent overnight protests in Kenosha, resulting in widespread damage and multiple fires. In response, Evers used the news conference to recognize more protests were likely and to urge demonstrators to do so peacefully - and with masks and proper social distancing.

“Every person should be able to make their voices heard and report on these calls to action without any fear of being unsafe,” he said.

Speaker Vos on shooting

NBC15 reached out to Speaker Robin Vos immediately after Evers’ call for a special session, but are waiting to hear back from him

Vos has issued a statement on the shooting and the demonstrations that followed, saying he was “deeply disturbed by what occurred in Kenosha.”

The Republican Speaker criticized the “the demonstrators’ complete disregard to public safety, damage to personal property, and the attack on police,” adding that he encourages “those who would like to express their frustration and anger to do so peacefully.

Vos also asked the state Dept. of Justice to complete its investigation into the shooting within the next 30 days so the community can “know the totality of the circumstances leading up to the shooting.” He noted that the video only showed 20 seconds of what happened and said that people should wait to learn if the events leading up to that moment “tells the whole story.

The Speaker’s Office will also create a special task force that will focus on racial disparities, educational opportunities, public safety, and police policies and standards.

“We must find a path forward as a society that brings everyone together,” he concluded.

Wisconsin Professional Police Association Response

NBC15 News reached out to the Wisconsin Professional Police Association (WPPA) for their thoughts on the upcoming session.

“We actually support the governor’s call for a special session in the legislature,” Exec. Dir. Jim Palmer said. “At the same time, we also support [Assembly] Speaker Vos’s call to create a task force to look at it from a longer perspective, we don’t think those processes are mutually exclusive, and they could both bring some really good outcomes and should be pursued.”

Palmer later released a full statement from the WPPA regarding the shooting of Jacob Blake:

"While the WPPA represents more than 10,000 members from over 300 local association affiliates, the officers in the Kenosha Police Department are not among them. The WPPA’s legal and field staff are not involved in the investigation being conducted by the Wisconsin Department of Justice, and as such, we are limited as to what we can say about the incident at this early stage of the investigation.

On behalf of Wisconsin’s law enforcement community, our hearts go all those impacted by the shooting of Jacob Blake. We recognize the pain that this incident has caused Mr. Blake and his family, and we hope he makes a full recovery. We also want to acknowledge the legitimate concerns of those that are troubled by the actions depicted in the traumatic bystander video of the incident. We understand how the video is emblematic of an experience that is familiar to many Americans of color, and we regret the hurt that this incident and those like it continue to inflict.

To all those so affected by Mr. Blake’s shooting, please know that your voices, your questions, and your lives matter. The WPPA supports your right to have your questions answered as soon as possible to the greatest extent possible. Wisconsin led the way when it became the first state in the nation to mandate the independent investigation by an outside agency any time a serious use of force incident such as this occurs. We urge the public to respect this independent process before rendering judgment. Little can be gained from painting law enforcement with a broad brush, as some have done – including Gov. Evers. While we respect the concerns that exist about policing, we hope the pursuit of social justice does not come at the expense of procedural justice.

As Wisconsin’s largest law enforcement group, we have a long history of undertaking and supporting efforts to strengthen the relationship between law enforcement and the communities it serves. For that reason, we wholeheartedly support Gov. Evers’ decision to call a special session of the legislature to begin addressing these issues. We also support the formation of a task force by Assembly Speaker Robin Vos to focus on these issues from a broader, more systemic perspective. The approaches outlined by Gov. Evers and Robin Vos are not mutually exclusive and they both warrant serious consideration. We share the urgency expressed by the governor and we respect the long-term view advanced by the speaker. We urge these leaders to support one another and their distinctive strategies to affect meaningful change. Doing so will depend upon their ability to bring people together, the fair exercise of judgment, and a genuine dedication to achieving the kind of progress that will protect our citizens as well as the dedicated men and women that work to keep them safe.”

Evers Legislative Package

According to the Governor’s Office, the package of legislation included in the governor’s special session call includes:

  • LRB 6273/LRB 6424:
    • Establishes statewide use of force standards for all law enforcement agencies that includes that the primary duty of law enforcement is to preserve the life of all individuals; that deadly force is to be used only as the last resort; that officers should use skills and tactics that minimize the likelihood that force will become necessary; that, if officers must use physical force, it should be the least amount of force necessary to safely address the threat; and that law enforcement officers must take reasonable action to stop or prevent any unreasonable use of force by their colleagues;
    • Prohibits discipline of a law enforcement officer for reporting a violation of a law enforcement agency’s use of force policy; and
    • Requires the Law Enforcement Standards Board (LESB) to develop a model use of force policy for law enforcement agencies.
  • LRB 6274/ LRB 6425:
    • Requires each law enforcement officer to annually complete at least eight hours of training on use of force options and de-escalation techniques.
  • LRB 6275/LRB 6426:
    • Creates a $1,000,000 grant program, administered by the Department of Justice, to fund community organizations that are utilizing evidence-based outreach and violence interruption strategies to mediate conflicts, prevent retaliation and other potentially violent situations, and connect individuals to community supports.
  • LRB 6276/LRB 6427:
    • Requires law enforcement agencies to develop policies prohibiting the use of chokeholds.
  • LRB 6277/LRB 6428:
    • Requires each law enforcement agency to not only prepare a policy regarding the use of force by its law enforcement officers, but to make it available publicly online.
  • LRB 6281/LRB 6429:
    • Creates a civil cause of action for unnecessarily summoning a law enforcement officer with intent to infringe upon a right of the person under the Wisconsin Constitution or the U.S. Constitution; unlawfully discriminate against the person; cause the person to feel harassed, humiliated, or embarrassed; cause the person to be expelled from a place in which the person is lawfully located; damage the person’s reputation or standing within the community; or damage the person’s financial, economic, consumer, or business prospects or interests.
  • LRB 6283/LRB 6430:
    • Requires that the Department of Justice publish an annual report on 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; and
    • Requires certain demographic information to be collected about each incident and reported annually by DOJ on its website.
  • LRB 6289/LRB 6431:
    • Prohibits no-knock search warrants.
  • LRB 6292/LRB 6432:
    • Makes certain changes to the responsibilities of the LESB, including requiring LESB to also regulate jail and juvenile detention officer training standards and regulate recruitment standards for the recruiting of new law enforcement, jail, and juvenile detention officers;
    • Requires each law enforcement agency to maintain an employment file for each employee; and
    • Requires each potential candidate for a position in an agency, jail, or facility that is or has been employed by a different agency, jail, or facility to authorize their previous employer to disclose his or her employment files to the hiring entity.
    • Prohibits no-knock search warrants.
  • LRB 6292/LRB 6432:
    • Makes certain changes to the responsibilities of the LESB, including requiring LESB to also regulate jail and juvenile detention officer training standards and regulate recruitment standards for the recruiting of new law enforcement, jail, and juvenile detention officers;
    • Requires each law enforcement agency to maintain an employment file for each employee; and
    • Requires each potential candidate for a position in an agency, jail, or facility that is or has been employed by a different agency, jail, or facility to authorize their previous employer to disclose his or her employment files to the hiring entity.

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