Wisconsin State Senate Passes Police Reform Bill That Affects Milwaukee's Fire And Police Commission
While the Wisconsin Senate hasn’t yet ban chokeholds or taken up other use of force policies, it did pass several administrative police reform bills Tuesday. It’s the first movement in the legislature on policing since racial justice protests erupted last year.
One bill, dealing with Milwaukee’s Fire and Police Commission, generated animated conversation. The bill would require commissions to accept a member nominee from police and firefighter unions.
Each union would submit five candidates of its choosing to the mayor who would pick one candidate from each list. The bill would also require nine commissioners to be appointed instead of the possibility of seven under current law, and it would require a mayor to fill a vacancy on the commission within 120 days or the common council could make the appointment.
Republican State Senator Van Wanggaard of Racine, a former police officer, is co-sponsoring the bill. He said the most important aspect is that it takes control away from the mayor for hiring and firing the commission’s executive director.
“This bill creates a truly independent executive director of the Fire and Police Commission,” said Wanggaard. “The executive director, if approved by the Common Council, would get a four-year term. The executive director can only be fired for cause by the commissioners, and this puts the people in charge of the Commission.”
But several Milwaukee Democrats have concerns about aspects of the bill. State Senator Tim Carpenter took issue with requiring union picks to be on the commission.
“We need a more integrated, more representative Police and Fire Department than we have now,” said Carpenter. “The only thing is with this particular bill, I think and again, the police and fire unions have too much power.”
Carpenter and other Milwaukee Democrats also say it’s less important for commissioners to have a law enforcement background, and more important for them to live in the city in which they’re weighing in on policing.
State Senator Chris Larson addressed the residency issue. “There is no requirement in here that those that serve on fire and police commissions are residents of the communities that they are going to serve on this commission, and that was a glaring, it seems to me at least, a glaring hole.”
Larson said residency requirements provide accountability for commissioners who are making police hiring and firing decisions.
Republican leadership in the Senate voted down that amendment.
The bill is not perfect, said State Senator Lena Taylor, but it’s a step in the right direction. The Milwaukee Democrat, who’s co-sponsoring the legislation, said the bill directs commissioners to be trained and requires Mayor Tom Barrett to appoint commissioners consistently.
“Part of the reason why we don't have a chief now, because the votes were even because [Mayor Barrett] didn't appoint all the people,” said Taylor. “People are on the board whose terms ended. They ended. Those people, while their terms ended, they got to decide settlements, contracts for chiefs, disciplinary actions.”
Taylor said without the bill there are no rules that say a commissioner must stop serving if they’ve not been reappointed.
The other measures the Senate passed Tuesday would create a grant program for community-based policing, require police to post use-of-force policies online, require the state Justice Department to gather more data on use-of-force incidents and produce an annual report and require police to share personnel files during the hiring process.
The legislation now goes to the Assembly.