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Wisconsin Senate Votes To Ban Police Chokeholds

Many Wisconsin police departments have already banned the use of chokeholds, including Milwaukee which has no exceptions and chokeholds are not taught as a compliance technique during law enforcement training.

Updated 9:03 a.m. CDT

The Wisconsin Senate on Wednesday passed a bill that would prohibit police from using chokeholds, except in life-threatening situations or to defend themselves, while also approving a measure that attempts to stop the defunding of police.

The chokehold measure is one in a series of police reform bills making their way through the Wisconsin Legislature a year after George Floyd's death in Minneapolis. Floyd, who was Black, died after white police Officer Derek Chauvin pressed his knee into his neck for 9 minutes, 29 seconds. Chauvin lost his job and was found guilty of murder. Numerous other shootings of Black people by white police officers across the country, including in Wisconsin, have placed greater attention on policing policies and accelerated calls for change.

Under the bill approved on a voice vote Wednesday, police departments in Wisconsin would be barred from authorizing chokeholds in their policies detailing how and when force can be used. Critics say there should be no exception for officers to use chokeholds, even in self defense as the bill allows. But supporters say the exception is reasonable and that the bill would all-but eliminate the use of chokeholds.

Many Wisconsin police departments have already enacted similar policies, including Milwaukee which has no exceptions, and chokeholds are not taught as a compliance technique during law enforcement training. However, backers of the bill say explicitly banning them statewide would be another step toward ensuring they are not used.

Following Floyd’s death last year, Democratic Gov. Tony Evers proposed an outright ban on chokeholds in all instances. Evers took a softer approach in April, more in line with the bill, ordering the Wisconsin State Patrol and other state law enforcement agencies to update their use of force policies to prohibit chokeholds, unless as a last resort.

The bill grew out of recommendations from a bipartisan task force on policing and racial equity. Some of its other recommendations, which are advancing separately in the Legislature, have been criticized for not going far enough to change policing practices.

The Senate also passed a bill Wednesday supported by Republicans and police and opposed by Democrats and local governments that attempts to stop efforts to defund police.

It would mandate that any municipality that decreases funding for police would receive an equal cut in state aid. The bill is an attempt by conservatives to stop those who want to take money away from police departments, sometimes to use for other social services that may not require a law enforcement intervention.

Under the bill, municipalities that do not cut their police budgets would receive more in state aid. Police departments with fewer than 30 officers would be exempt.

Republican Sen. Van Wanggaard, the bill sponsor and a retired police officer from Racine, said the proposal was about keeping cities including Milwaukee safe and that it would stop indiscriminate cutting of police officers and keep communities safe.

Democratic critics said the measure was an overreach and wouldn't make cities safer, and that the state was interfering with the right of local governments to make the best decisions for their communities.

“This is shameful,” said Democratic Sen. Bob Wirch, of Kenosha.

Police budgets are disproportionately large, which is fueling the call for their funding to be cut, said Democratic Sen. La Tonya Johnson, of Milwaukee.

Evers is expected to veto the bill should it pass the Assembly.

The Senate passed a third bill, on a bipartisan 30-2 vote, that has widespread support and requires law enforcement agencies to specify when use of force must be reported, how to report it and mandates that officers who engage or observe use of force to report it. It also prohibits disciplining an officer for reporting a violation of the agency's use of force policy.

In 2021, Simone Cazares was WUWM's Eric Von Broadcast Fellow. She later became a WUWM reporter.
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