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Wisconsin Republican Leadership Discusses Police Reform Initiatives

Rep. Jim Steineke
Courtesy of Jim Steineke
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Republican Rep. and Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke speaks on the floor of the Wisconsin Assembly.

Protests were sparked after the murder of George Floyd by a former Minneapolis police officer almost a year ago. Calls for change in policing policies followed his death around the country and here in Wisconsin. WUWM’s Policing In Wisconsin series examines what has and hasn’t changed in law enforcement since last summer’s protests.

Democratic Gov. Tony Evers called for legislative changes in a special session last June, but Republicans gaveled in and out without taking up the issue.

Later, Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos created a task force on racial disparities, which has issued a series of recommendations. The Legislature is circulating more than a dozen police reform bills right now. Republican state Rep. Jim Steineke is the Assembly Majority Leader and co-chair of the speaker’s task force along with Democratic state Rep. Sheila Stubbs. Steineke says he wants move quickly on passing new legislation based on task force recommendations.

“We’re planning on having committee hearings, hopefully in a joint session with the Senate and then from there I’m hoping to get the bills on the floor sometime in June,” he says.

Steineke says he expects the bills to pass with bipartisan support and hopes Evers signs the bills into law. When asked about signing the future bills, Evers says he would consider them.

“If it's a step forward, and it seems like it can lead to even more transparency and good accountability, then I'd consider signing it, but I want to see what comes to my desk,” says Evers.

One issues where the task force and Evers differ is on police use of chokeholds. The task force’s bill aims to limit chokeholds while Evers has called for the outright ban of the maneuver. Steineke says while no agencies in Wisconsin instruct officers to use the tactic, law enforcement says that an outright ban on chokeholds could force officers to turn to their weapons in a life-or-death scenario.

“Law enforcement officers in the case of a life-or-death struggle don’t have the opportunity to use [chokeholds] as a less lethal source of detaining somebody, then their last remaining option is their weapon,” he says.

When it comes to calls to reduce police funding in support of alternative violence or crime presentation strategies, Steineke says that those ideas are putting “the cart before the horse."

“Everybody would prefer to spend less on law enforcement, right, I mean if we spend less on law enforcement it means that we have lower amounts of crime in our communities,” he says.

Steineke says the task force’s bills aim to achieve three goals when it comes to policing in Wisconsin: increase transparency, increase accountability and provide more training for officers. The bills address issues like paying for police body cameras, training more officers in crisis intervention and requiring officers to step in if another officer is using excessive force.

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