By Margo Kirchner
The mother of a man killed by police after she called to ask for a wellness check on her mentally ill son put it bluntly:
“How could you as a parent not blame yourself for that phone call?”
Toni Biegert's son Joseph was shot by police in 2015. She and others — family members of nine men killed by officers — testified recently before a subcommittee of the Assembly Speaker’s Task Force on Racial Disparities. The committee wanted specifically to hear from families impacted by disparities in law enforcement.
Joseph suffered from depression, and after Toni spoke with him by telephone that day in 2015 she worried that he would take too much medication, as he had threatened that previously. Toni said she could not get across Green Bay fast enough to get to Joseph herself.
When police arrived, Joseph, age 30, let them in and was cooperative, Toni said. Police checked for weapons but found none, she stated.
The officers decided to take Joseph into custody and when they patted down his pelvic area he reacted and pulled away. The scene then became chaotic, said Toni. Police took Joseph to the ground, punched him, and hit him with a baton. Toni said the police version of the scene includes Joseph dragging officers to the kitchen, where he obtained a knife from a butcher block and grazed an officer’s arm with it. Police then shot Joseph nine times.
Toni said she will never know the facts, emphasizing that “Joseph’s not here to tell his side of the story.”
Toni testified that her life will never be the same. She asked subcommittee members to put themselves in her shoes as the parent who reached out “to have someone just check on your child and he’s dead now.”
She questioned why police would take her son down and punch him merely because he pulled back when touched. In her opinion they should have calmed him down.
Joe’s only crime was that he suffered from mental illness, she said.
Toni called for mandatory crisis intervention training, or “CIT,” for every police officer, because one in five people suffers from mental illness. She charged that the officers who shot her son escalated the situation from the beginning of the encounter and that CIT could have affected the outcome.
Toni indicated that in response to her demands for mandatory CIT she has been told that no funding exists for it, and CIT remains a voluntary program. She questioned why CIT and compassion are not part of police academy training.
“Police officers need to know how to interact with people who are suffering” with mental illness, she said.
“At the end of the day, my son shouldn’t be dead,” she said.
By Gretchen Schuldt
Municipalities would be required to maintain police funding at current levels or lose state aid, under a package of police-related bills to be introduced by Sen. Van Wanggaard (R-Racine).
The requirement would have a devastating impact on local governments that are under enormous economic stress because of revenue lost during the coronavirus pandemic.
Gov. Tony Evers called the Legislature into session on Monday to consider his nine-bill police reform package. Wanggard responded Thursday by announcing eight police-related bills of his own. State Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) is a co-sponsor on all eight bills and Rep. Janel Brandtjen, (R-Menomonee Falls) is a co-sponsor of a bill dealing with the make-up and operation of Milwaukee and Madison fire and police commissions, according to the Racine County Eye.
Below are the Legislative Reference Bureau's summaries of the Wanggaard bills.
Bill 1: This bill creates an independent use of force review advisory board. Under the bill, the board conducts independent investigations of deaths and serious injuries to law enforcement officers and deaths and serious injuries to others resulting from an action or omission of a law enforcement officer. The board must recommend measures to reduce the probabilities of deaths and serious injuries from similar causes and must also review its previous recommendations to determine if they were implemented and evaluate their effectiveness.
Under the bill, if the board conducts an investigation of an incident involving an officer that resulted in death or a serious injury, its investigation may begin only after any mandatory or criminal investigation concludes. The bill grants the board access to all complete criminal and administrative investigation case files, models or renderings used in an investigation, and evidence and also to the state crime laboratories. The board must acquire experts and use advisors as needed to perform its duties; the experts and advisors include a certified firearms instructor, a defensive and arrest tactics instructor, an expert in cultural competency, a master instructor in professional communications, a master instructor in tactical response, a victim advocate, and a mental health professional.
When the board completes an investigation, it must prepare an advisory report to be made public and be submitted to the legislature, all law enforcement agencies, and the Law Enforcement Standards Board. The report must identify events or developments that led to the officer-involved death or serious injury and make recommendations to prevent similar incidents in the future. The report must provide demographic information about each incident, share best practices used by law enforcement officers, and recommend practices that the board learns when exercising its review.
Note: The makeup of the board would be heavily weighted toward law enforcement and police unions. According to the bill, the board would include
Bill 2: Current law requires each law enforcement agency to have a publicly available policy or standard regulating the use of force by law enforcement officers. This bill requires each such policy or standard to provide the instances in which a use of force must be reported, how to report a use of force, and a requirement that officers who engage in or observe a reportable use of force must report it. This bill also prohibits disciplining a law enforcement officer for reporting a violation of an agency's policy or standard regarding the use of force.
Bill 3: Current law requires each law enforcement agency to prepare a policy regarding the use of force by its law enforcement officers and to make the policy available for public scrutiny. This bill requires the law enforcement agency to post its policy on the law enforcement agency website or, if the agency does not have one, on a site maintained by the municipality over which the law enforcement agency has jurisdiction. Under the bill, if the policy is changed, the law enforcement agency must ensure that the updated policy is posted as soon as practically possible but no later than one year after the change is made. The bill also requires a law enforcement agency to prominently post a means to request a copy of the policy and to provide a copy of the current policy at no charge as soon as practically possible but no later than three business days after a request is made.
Bill 4: This bill makes a number of changes that affect the board of fire and police commissioners of a 1st class city (presently only Milwaukee), the board of police and fire commissioners of a 2nd class city with a population of 200,000 or more (presently only Madison) (jointly referred to as affected PFC boards), and the protective services departments of 1st class cities and 2nd class cities with a population of 200,000 or more (jointly, populous cities). The changes include altering the makeup of affected PFC boards, requiring certain training for affected PFC board members, establishing certain requirements related to hiring and oversight of chiefs of protective services departments in populous cities, creating an executive director or independent monitor position in populous cities, and altering the judicial review process for police and fire department disciplinary cases in a 1st class city.
Under current law, the board of fire and police commissioners of a 1st class city consists of seven or nine members selected by the mayor. Boards of police and fire commissioners of other cities, including a 2nd class city, consist of five members selected by the mayor. Under this bill, a board of fire and police commissioners of a 1st class city consists of nine members selected by the mayor, and confirmed by the common council. The board of a police and fire commission of a 2nd class city with a population of 200,000 or more consists of seven members selected by the mayor. Each of these boards must contain at least one member selected from a list provided by each of 1) the employee association that represents nonsupervisory law enforcement officers and 2) the employee association that represents fire fighters.
This bill provides a method for selecting members of affected PFC boards when the mayor fails to make an appointment to a vacant position. If the mayor fails to make an appointment within 120 days of the occurrence of a vacancy, the common council may make the appointment, except when the vacant position is one that must be filled from one of the lists described above. In this case, the association that provided the list may make the appointment without confirmation by the common council.
In a 1st class city, a three-member panel of the board of fire and police commissioners may conduct and decide a trial to evaluate a complaint against a member of the police or fire department. This bill specifies that when a three-member panel conducts such a trial, at least one member of the panel must have professional law enforcement experience if the accused is a police officer, and at least one such member must have professional fire fighting experience if the accused is a fire fighter.
The bill also requires each member of an affected PFC board to take a training class provided by the city in which it operates. The training class must cover the mission and role of the board, the procedures that apply to disciplinary hearings, the conduct policies of the police and fire departments, and use of force guidelines of the police department. A member may not participate in any action of the board until he or she completes the training class and any other training required by the city.
The bill also creates the office of executive director in a 1st class city and the office of independent monitor in a 2nd class city with a population of 200,000 or more. Despite the different titles, these positions have the same duties and requirements. This person acts as the principal staff of an affected PFC board, reviews certain situations or investigations involving the police or fire department, evaluates police and fire department policies and practices, and issues periodic reports to the public relating to the status and outcome of complaints that have been filed. The executive director or independent monitor is appointed by the mayor and confirmed by the common council and serves a four-year term, at the pleasure of the board.
This bill also specifies the following related to affected PFC boards:
1. When an affected PFC board appoints a protective services chief, the board must meet in closed session with representatives of the employee association whose members will serve under the proposed chief.
2. When an affected PFC board appoints a protective services chief, the board must hold at least two public meetings to hear comments from residents of the city and other interested persons.
3. When a member is appointed to an affected PFC board, the common council must hold two public hearings that include public comment periods with regard to the appointments.
4. If an affected PFC board accepts an additional application for chief of police after the application period for accepting these applications has closed, the board must reopen the application period for an additional seven days.
5. If the common council adopts a resolution by a two-thirds majority to conduct a performance review of a protective services chief, an affected PFC board must conduct the review and provide a written report to the common council.
6. A PFC board member may not continue in office after the expiration of his or her term, unless reappointed and, in a 1st class city, confirmed.
Currently, if a board of fire and police commissioners of a 1st class city discharges, suspends, or reduces in rank an officer or member of the police or fire department, the disciplined person may appeal that decision to a circuit court. This bill specifies the scope of review under which a court is to review an appeal of this sort. Under the bill, a court must review the evidence independently and without deference to the board's findings; must reverse the board's decision if it finds that fairness or correctness of the action has been impaired by material or procedural errors; and must set aside or modify the board's decision if it finds that the board erroneously interpreted a provision of law, or may remand the case to the board for further action that is consistent with current law. The bill also requires the court to reverse the board's decision if it finds that the board's exercise of discretion is outside of its delegated powers; is inconsistent with a board rule, policy, or practice, unless the board's deviation is adequately explained; or violates the constitution or the statutes. The bill also authorizes a court to take additional testimony, depositions, and interrogatories, and to grant requests for additional discovery.
Bill 5: This bill establishes a $600,000 grant program, administered by the Department of Justice, for cities with a population of 60,000 or more to fund community-oriented policing house programs.
Bill 6: Under this bill, if in any year a municipality decreases the amount of its municipal budget dedicated to hiring, training, and retaining law enforcement officers so that it is less than the amount dedicated to that purpose in the previous year, the municipality will receive a county and municipal aid payment that is reduced by the amount of that decrease. The bill provides that the amount of all such reductions will be distributed to the municipalities that did not reduce their law enforcement budgets in proportion to each municipality's share of the total amount of county and municipal aid payments. Furthermore, the amount of the reduced payment that the municipality receives becomes the amount of county and municipal aid that the municipality will receive in subsequent years.
The reductions under the bill do not apply to a municipality that transfers responsibility for providing law enforcement to another local unit of government or that enters into a cooperative agreement to share law enforcement responsibilities with another local unit of government.
Bill 7: Current law requires law enforcement agencies to develop policies on the use of force by law enforcement officers in the performance of their duties. This bill provides that a law enforcement agency may not authorize in its use of force policy the use of choke holds by law enforcement officers, except in life threatening situations or in self-defense.
Bill 8: Current law requires the Department of Justice to collect certain information concerning criminal offenses committed in Wisconsin. This bill requires DOJ to collect data and publish an annual report on law enforcement 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. The bill requires certain demographic information to be collected about each such incident, and reported annually by DOJ on its Internet site.
By Gretchen Schuldt
A proposal to require law enforcement to impound any vehicle operated by a person without a valid driver's license would cost the state and local governments up to $50 million a year if the proposal becomes law, according to the State Department of Transportation.
The cost estimate assumes costs of $28.9 million for 258.4 new employees to handle the work involved and $21.2 million in towing and vehicle storage costs that law enforcement agencies would not be able to recover.
In addition, the law proposed by State Sen. David Craig (R - Big Bend) and State Rep. Joe Sanfelippo (R-New Berlin) could leave car owners scrambling to retrieve from the impound lot their vehicles that were stolen and driven by the unlicensed thieves.
"It appears that the owner of the (stolen) vehicle would be responsible for paying the fees to get their own vehicle back," DOT said in a fiscal estimate.
Craig is the lead sponsor in the Senate; Sanfelippo is the lead in the Assembly. Senate co-sponsors are Stephen Nass (R-Whitewater), Andre Jacque (R-DePere), and Howard Marklein (R-Spring Green). Assembly co-sponsors include Scott Allen (R-Waukesha), Barbara Dittrich (R-Oconomowoc), Rick Gundrum (R-Slinger), Cody Horlacher (R-Muskego), Terry Katsma (R-Oostburg), Daniel Knodl (R-Germantown), Mike Kuglitsch (R-New Berlin), Gae Magnafici (R-Dresser), David Murphy (R-Greenville), John Spiros (R-Marshfield), Ken Skowronski (R-Franklin), Paul Tittl (R-Manitowoc), Ron Tusler (R-Harrison), and Chuck Wichgers (R-Muskego).
The Craig/Sanfelippo bill would, with few exceptions, require that a car operated by a driver without a valid license "be immediately impounded." The requirement would apply in cases of driving on a suspended license, driving after revocation, and driving without a license.
"It appears that the owner of the (stolen) vehicle would be responsible for paying the fees to get their own vehicle back." – Wisconsin Department of Transportation
A person could get a car back at the end of an impound period by paying the fine or forfeiture for the license violation and any impound fees. A vehicle could not be released, however, unless it was properly registered and the person to whom it was registered showed proof of insurance and a valid operator's license.
The State Patrol, which issued 11,292 citations last year for driving without a valid license, doesn't have any impound lots and would have to get some, the DOT said.
"It is estimated that it could cost roughly $500,000 to establish each lot when factoring in the costs to obtain real estate, paving, fencing and the necessary security measures," the agency said. The estimate does not say how many impound lots the state would need.
By Gretchen Schuldt
The State Assembly's Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee will hold an announced-at-the-last-minute public hearing on a package of partisan "tougher on crime bills" Thursday in the State Capitol.
The hearing is scheduled for 9 a.m. in room 412 East.
If you support criminal justice reform, chances are you will not like these Republican proposals. WJI opposes them.
The bill numbers, links to their text, and short summaries of what the legislation would do are below. The summaries are taken from Legislative Reference Bureau information and from the relevant bill's language. Each one will carry a fiscal cost, but the estimates are not yet available.
Please contact your legislator and join the fight for a reasonable criminal justice system. Find out who your state representatives are by going here and clicking on the "Who are My Legislators?" button.
The members of the criminal justice committee are listed here.
Assembly Bill 758 – Under this bill, a person in a facility to await a commitment trial as a sexually violent person is guilty of a Class H felony if he or she commits battery against an officer, employee, agent, visitor, or other resident of the facility. Class H felonies are punishable by up to six years in prison and / or a $10 000 fine.
Assembly Bill 802 – This bill would allow a judge, when determining when videoconferencing can be used in court, to consider the safety of the witness or the risk that the witness may be unavailable to testify if videoconferencing is not used
Assembly Bill 803 – The allowable use of deposition testimony in court instead of live testimony would be expanded under this bill. Deposition testimony would be acceptable if it appears that the witness is "at risk" of being intimidated and thus may not fully cooperate at trial. It also would be allowed if a judge finds that a witness "may have been" intimidated.
Assembly Bill 804 – This bill would increase the penalty for intimidating the victim or alleged victim of domestic abuse from a maximum of nine months incarceration and / or a $10,000 fine to a maximum of 10 years in prison and / or a $25,000 fine.
By Gretchen Schuldt
Gov. Tony Evers is proposing to grant a $30-an-hour pay hike followed by automatic pay increases to private attorneys who accept State Public Defender appointments to represent poor defendants in court cases, according to the governor's budget proposal.
"Wisconsin has the lowest reimbursement rate for private bar attorneys that represent indigent criminal defendants," the budget notes. "Under our system of due process, everyone has a constitutional right to legal representation yet the low reimbursement rate has caused major concerns as to whether all Wisconsinites are being properly represented."
The proposed budget would increase from $40 per hour to $70 per hour paid to the private attorneys. The increase would take effect Jan. 1, 2020. After that, the amount paid would be adjusted to reflect inflation.
The initiative would cost $25.6 million over the two years of the biennium, according to the budget.
As expected, the proposed budget would legalize medical marijuana and eliminate penalties associated with small amounts of recreational marijuana. Below are related excerpts from the budget.
The state would, under the budget, do the following (we'll be adding to the list in future posts.):
You can show your support or opposition Evers' proposals by contacting your legislators. Hey, don't know who they are, exactly? You can find out by visiting the Legislature's home page here and typing your address in the box on the right side of the page.
By Gretchen Schuldt
The Department of Corrections would spend an additional $13.6 million annually to imprison fifth- and sixth-offense drunk drivers if the Legislature adopts a measure mandating 18-month minimum prison sentences for those offenders, according to a fiscal estimate from the department.
Under current law, fifth or sixth OWI offenders can be fined up to $25,000 and imprisoned for up to 10 years. The minimum sentence is $600 and six months incarceration.
An average of 438 people per year are sentenced to probation for fifth or sixth offense drunk driving. Assuming that all those people would go to prison under the new bill, the proposal would add an estimated 639 inmates to the state's already jam-packed facilities, DOC said in the estimate.
The estimate includes $1.6 million for new substance abuse disorder programs to serve the additional inmates. Those programs would require an additional 23 full-time staff position.
"These costs do not include remodeling/reconstruction costs that may be needed to create the kind of program spaces that are needed," DOC said.
Because the adult prison system is at capacity, the estimate assumes DOC would step up its contracts with local jails to house prison inmates. The agency would require an additional $12 million per year for the contracts if all 639 inmates were held in jails, according to the estimate.
The Department, in a separate estimate, said that criminalizing first offense drunk driving would cost about $3 million annually to provide supervision, electronic monitoring, and substance use disorder programming. That is just DOC's cost - fiscal estimates for courts, prosecutors, and public defenders are not yet available.
A bill pending in the Legislature would make first offense drunk driving a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $500, up to 30 days incarceration, and / or two years probation.
The estimate assumes that 13,970 people will be found guilty of first offense drunk driving during the year, and that 1,097 of those people would be placed on one year of probation. The probation rolls would permanently swell by that number about a year after the bill's enactment.
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