WPPA

Are Use-of-Force Policies Going to Change?

June 5, 2020

This week, numerous members contacted the WPPA after having read the news that Gov. Evers came out in support of legislation to “change” the use of-force-policies utilized by law enforcement agencies throughout Wisconsin. Members have inquired about the bill, its chances for becoming law, and the extent to which it will impact the policies and practices governing law enforcement’s use of force in this state. The purpose of this mobile app news alert is to make the answers to these questions widely available to our membership at-large.

Rep. Chris Taylor (D-Madison) recently introduced legislation that would require each law-enforcement agency to ensure that its policy on the use of force incorporates the following principles:  

  1. The primary duty of all members of law enforcement is to preserve human life, including the lives of individuals being placed in police custody; 
  2. Deadly force shall only be used as a last resort. The necessity to use deadly force arises when all other available means of preventing immediate and grave danger to officers or other persons have failed or would likely fail;
  3. Law enforcement shall obtain the cooperation of the public, with minimum reliance on the use of physical force. When force is needed, it shall not exceed that needed to address the threat posed to the officer or the public; 
  4. De-escalation tactics to reduce the use-of-force by law enforcement officers shall be employed unless impossible; and
  5. Officers must take actions to intervene when witnessing a colleague’s excessive use-of-force.   

As demonstrated in the chart below, the principles the bill intends to “create” are already well-established in Wisconsin, as they are provided for in the statutes, rules, and training that governs law enforcement’s use of force.  



While the issue of whether the principles discussed above should be codified into a single statute is a legitimate topic of discussion from a public policy standpoint, the fact remains that the bill would not create anything new or impose requirements that don’t already exist. The legitimate use of force by law enforcement officers in Wisconsin is limited by a hierarchy of laws and standards, which include the U.S. Constitution, Wisconsin law, agency policy, and officer training. Nothing in the bill described above would change the legal analysis of law enforcement actions. In addition, given that the legislature is not expected to convene to consider any new legislation until January of 2021, it is highly unlikely that there will be any action on this use-of-force bill, which hasn’t even received a legislative committee hearing and was introduced only days before the 2019-20 legislative session was effectively adjourned.

Anyone with questions or comments is welcome to contact WPPA Executive Director Jim Palmer at palmer@wppa.com.  


IN OTHER NEWS…

In response to the demand of some protest groups that the state “defund the police,” Gov. Evers stated his clear opposition to the idea. To read more about the governor’s statements on this issue and the explanation provided by the WPPA as to how agencies would be impacted by cutting public safety funding, check out this substantive article from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Read the WPPA’s statement regarding the death of George Floyd.