Racine Takes First Steps Toward Police Reform
Racine City Council President John Tate II during a Thursday meeting on police reform. Behind him are both Black Lives Matter and American flags. (Screenshot via City of Racine)

A bevy of actions announced, but none with immediate reformative effects.

The Racine City Council Thursday night unanimously approved a consulting contract to help run a new city-sanctioned task force on police reform.

The action came a day after Racine Mayor Cory Mason announced a list of immediate and long-term goals to make meaningful changes to the Racine Police Department in the wake of the murder of an unarmed Black man, George Floyd, by Minneapolis police. Calls for police reform and reduced police funding have gone mainstream as protests over racism and police brutality have captivated the nation for more than two weeks.

“This is the moment. This is the time,” said Alderman Maurice Horton.

Among the immediate actions, Mason said the city will require all police officers to undergo implicit bias training, publish all department policies on the department’s public website, diversify the police force and join the Government Alliance on Race and Equity.

“In the process of transformation, you ultimately create something that meets the needs of the citizens, addresses the disparities that have been existing for a long time (and) serves the way that we ultimately desire our police force to function for our community,” said City Council President John Tate II, who is black. He hung both an American flag and Black Lives Matter flag behind him for the virtual meeting.

Notably absent from Mason’s proposals was any mention of defunding the Police Department, a call that has become familiar in the wake of Floyd’s death. Proponents argue that cities should cut their law enforcement budget and invest the funds in community resources.

In 2020, Racine’s police budget increased about $700,000 to just over $30 million. That constituted about 36 percent of the city’s overall $83.6 million general-fund budget. The city of roughly 75,000 is located about 25 miles south of Milwaukee. 

The city will also form the Mayor’s Task Force on Police Reform. It will include Mason, local residents and activists, politicians, and former law enforcement officers. Within 90 days, the task force will present recommendations to potentially alter the Police Department’s use-of-force policies and create a citizen review board to investigate complaints against the department.

To help run the task force, the city entered a $47,500 contract with local consulting firm Payne and Frazier. The money is coming from the Police Department’s budget, which Chief Art Howell said he supports.

“We have a couple different areas in our budget where we believe we can accomplish this,” Howell said.

Mason called police reforms “necessary and overdue” in a statement.

“These steps we are taking today and in the immediate future are the beginning of a transformation,” Mason said. “As city leaders and as a police department we must take a hard look in the mirror to examine who we are and what we want to be.”