Sign up for the free newsletter that 60,000+ Wisconsinites read to stay connected.

"*" indicates required fields

Bills part of a sweeping police reform package.

Gov. Tony Evers and Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes on Friday announced a nine-bill package aimed at reforming police transparency and accountability in response to ongoing protests over the murder of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, by Minneapolis police.

In a nod to the Black Lives Matter movement, the state’s two top Democrats introduced the bills on Juneteenth, the holiday commemorating the freedom of the nation’s last slaves 155 years ago. Included in the package are bills that would ban the use of chokeholds and no-knock search warrants by the police, two practices that have led to the deaths of unarmed Black men and women. 

A mural in downtown Madison commemorates the life of Breonna Taylor. (Photo © Andy Manis)

Breonna Taylor, a Black woman from Louisville, Kentucky, was killed earlier this year when police executed a no-knock warrant on her apartment and shot her eight times. (The officer who killed her was fired on Friday after months of public outcry.) Eric Garner, a Black man in New York, whose death spawned the “I can’t breathe” rallying cry, was killed in 2014 after police put him in a chokehold for selling loose cigarettes.

“We continue to lose far too many Black lives, be it from inequities in criminal justice and policing, in health care, or in economic well-being,” said Barnes, Wisconsin’s first Black lieutenant governor. “The social and economic consequences of these deep-seated inequities reach every community in our state and eliminating them will require action at every level of government. Passing these bills is one piece of how we move closer to accountability, equity, and justice for all.”

The announcement, made as the Juneteenth Flag was hoisted above the state Capitol for the first time ever, is the latest in a series of reforms throughout the state and nation in response to calls to fight racism and police brutality. The Milwaukee Public Schools Board unanimously voted on Thursday to sever all contracts with Milwaukee Police, Racine established a task force on police reform last week, and the Madison School Board is considering ending its police contracts.

Thousands attended a rally in Madison Saturday to protest ongoing violence by police officers against unarmed African Americans. (Photo by Jessica VanEgeren)

Another key component of the package would give people a cause of action in civil court to sue anyone who makes a false 911 call, a proposal made earlier this year by Rep. Shelia Stubbs, D-Madison, after she was a victim of such profiling. People of color have been victimized, intimidated, and harassed by white people who weaponize police — a racist practice most recently highlighted by a white New York woman who called the cops on a Black bird watcher for no reason.

It remains to be seen whether any action whatsoever will be taken on the bills, though the odds are not in Evers’ and Barnes’ favor, even if they call a special session. 

The state’s top Republicans, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, have gaveled in and gaveled out in a matter of seconds special sessions on gun control and a request to delay the April 7 election.

“Calling another special session where legislative leaders come in and gavel in and gavel out risks us losing this incredible moment in history where we can and should be able to work together to get something accomplished,” Evers and Barnes wrote in a letter to the Legislative Black Caucus. “We should not need a special session when people across our state are demanding we take action.”

Vos’ office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the bills.

Sidewalk outside the Capitol building in Madison. (Photo by Jessica VanEgeren)

Here is a full summary of the proposals, based on their Legislative Reference Bureau (LRB) number until they are assigned actual bill numbers:

LRB 6273: 

  • 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:

  • ​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: 

  • 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: 

  • Requires law enforcement agencies to develop policies prohibiting the use of chokeholds.

LRB 6277:

  • 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: 

  • 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: 

  • 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: 

  • Prohibits no-knock search warrants.

LRB 6292:

  • 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.