this March 29, 2013, file photo, Sharday Rose, 24, holds a
phone in Milwaukee with a photo of her boyfriend, Derek
Williams, who died in 2011 in police custody while gasping
for breath. Wisconsin police are preparing for Gov. Scott
Walker to sign a bill developed in response to a number of
high-profile deaths like Williams', revamping
officer-involved death investigations.
MADISON - A
bill that would put outside agencies in charge of investigating
officer-involved deaths could create conflict and confusion for
Wisconsin agencies that have traditionally done it themselves,
police observers say.
supporters say the new requirements will counter claims that
police protect their own from consequences of using deadly
force. The bill passed the Legislature earlier this year and
Gov. Scott Walker has signaled he will sign it into law soon.
Wisconsin's smaller law enforcement agencies already use outside
investigators. But larger departments such as Green Bay, Madison
and Milwaukee have investigated their own for years. Outsiders
stepping into their affairs could be met with animosity.
general police departments don't like outsiders getting involved
in their business, whether it be reporters, researchers or the
community in general," said Steven Brandl, a University of
Wisconsin-Milwaukee associate criminal justice professor.
people died while in the process of arrest in Wisconsin between
2003 and 2009, according to the latest figures from the U.S.
Bureau of Justice Statistics. Wisconsin police departments
reported officers killed 41 people between June 2008 and April
2013, according to the state Department of Justice. All the
killings were ruled justifiable homicide.
Taylor, D-Madison, and Rep. Garey Bies, R-Sister Bay, developed
the legislation in response to three high-profile deaths in the
last 10 years. They pointed to the deaths of Michael Bell, whom
Kenosha police shot in the head as he fought with officers in
2004; robbery suspect Derek Williams, who died gasping for
breath and begging for help in a Milwaukee squad car in 2011;
and Paul Heenan, shot to death by a Madison officer during a
scuffle in 2012.
None of those
incidents resulted in criminal charges, raising questions from
the dead men's families about the integrity of the
public should have confidence that the investigation was handled
properly and without bias," Bies wrote to the Assembly
criminal justice committee in December.
The bill would
allow agencies to conduct internal investigations but they would
also have to launch a criminal investigation involving at least
two outside investigators. One of the outsiders must lead the
criminal inquiry. The investigators would ultimately submit a
report to the district attorney, who would make a charging
Wisconsin departments already rely on outside investigators
because they lack manpower and want to avoid the appearance
they're covering up for their own.
The bill would
force larger, resource-rich agencies such as Green Bay, Madison
and Milwaukee that have been investigating their own for years
to give up control to outsiders. The measure is silent on how to
set up agreements between agencies on who to call, when and how
much training outsiders should have, creating logistical
questions for agencies that have relied on themselves for
going to be a number of unknowns here," said Green Bay
Police Lt. Chad Ramos. "We put together very transparent
investigations. How is it we can't trust our own officers to
Police spokesman declined comment. Officials from that
department, though, have joined a committee working to establish
a pool of investigators that can work any officer-involved death
in Dane County, said UW-Madison Police Chief Sue Riseling, the
police already deal with a complex system for investigating
officer-involved deaths. The city has a response team that
includes the district attorney, the medical examiner and the
Attorney John Chisholm said his office has charged only two
officers in death incidents in about 40 years. DOJ data shows 14
of the 41 officer-involved homicides between 2008 and 2013
involved Milwaukee police but Chisholm himself hasn't charged
any officers since he took over in 2007. Chisholm said the
investigations have never generated evidence to support charges.
has any problem being transparent. I just don't know that (the
investigations) can be done any better than they are now,"
Milwaukee Police Association President Mike Crivello said. The
association is the union for city officers.
State Rep. Evan
Goyke, a Milwaukee Democrat and a former public defender who
co-sponsored the bill, said it's difficult to believe not one
officer did anything wrong.
that on paper we have all these procedures in place, but in
practice they've come to these same conclusions that defy
possibility," he said.
he doesn't charge people based on statistics. Regardless,
Milwaukee law enforcement leaders started talking several weeks
ago about establishing a team of investigators that can float
around the county similar to Dane County's plans, he said.
Justice Department plans to develop a model policy police can
follow to comply with the bill, agency spokeswoman Dana Brueck
said. She couldn't elaborate any further because DOJ is still
researching what the policy should include.
publicly expressed any support for the bill. But he's also said
he has no policy problems with any measures awaiting his