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Wisconsin Republicans Seek Financial Penalty For Cities That 'Defund' Police

Protesters and police
Maayan Silver
Milwaukee Police monitor an event organized by supporters of former President Donald Trump and its counter-protesters on November 7, 2020.

Wisconsin Republicans have proposed a bill that would financially penalize municipalities that cut their law enforcement budgets.

It’s a response to calls by racial justice activists around the state and nation to “defund” the police. Defunding the police generally means reallocating money from police departments to other agencies, like social service agencies that can address mental health, addiction and homelessness.

Republican state Sen. Van Wanggaard of Racine — a former police officer — authored the bill and said defunding the police is the definition of misplaced priorities. He spoke at a public hearing Tuesday before an Assembly committee.

“I realized that police services are usually the largest part of municipal budgets, and that's for a good reason. There is no more essential service that a municipality provides than policing, period," Wanggaard said.

Wanggaard said the bill doesn’t prevent any community from defunding the police. “As dangerous and foolish as that is, they can do that if they want,” he said. “The bill just says if your community defunds the police, your community will lose the same amount in shared revenue. So, if you need less of your essential services, you need less aid. Common sense. And this bill and the police deserve your support.”

Another person who spoke at the hearing was Andi Janeway of Madison. Janeway said Wanggaard’s comments that there’s no more essential services than police are disrespectful to health care workers, mental health providers and teachers.

“Saying we're going to take money away from you, if you don't continue giving the exact same amount or more to cops is absolutely morally reprehensible," Janeway said.

Democratic state Sen. Mark Spreitzer of Beloit said some municipalities have reduced the number of officers for reasons that had nothing to do with the “defund the police” movement.

“So is this about trying to weigh in on the defund the police movement? Or is this about really trying to micromanage city budgets and saying that, that if you lay off a single police officer or a single firefighter because of budget constraints that the state should come in and punish that by taking away shared revenue?” questioned Spreitzer.

Wanggard said an amendment to the bill would allow residents of a city that’s attempting to reduce police funding to collect signatures for a possible referendum on the issue.

He said state funding would not be withheld if the community voted to uphold a reduction in police funding.

The committee did not take action on the bill Tuesday. Gov. Tony Evers could veto the measure if the Legislature passes it.

Maayan is a WUWM news reporter.
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