Creating Safe Communities

This week, we gathered with our legislative colleagues, dozens of community and religious leaders, local elected officials, and civil rights and criminal justice reform groups to introduce the Safe Communities Act, a package of three bills designed to adopt best practices regarding law enforcement training and use of force standards. These policies stem from numerous recommendations from the law enforcement community that enhance the safety of everyone in our community.

Our Safe Communities proposal contains two critical pieces – uniform, core principles regarding when force is used that have been recommended by law enforcement and an updated annual training standard that includes use of force options, emphasizing de-escalation. 

First, department use of force policies should recognize that the primary duty of all members of law enforcement is to preserve the life of all individuals. This is a central tenant of being a law enforcement officer, and something that I know the vast majority of officers deeply internalize and prioritize.

Additionally, departments should adopt the U.S. Department of Justice’s standard that lethal force should only be used as a last resort. Use of force policies should recognize that, when possible, officers should use skills and tactics that minimize the likelihood that force will become necessary, including de-escalation tactics. If force must be used, it should be the least amount of force necessary to safely address the threat.

And finally, use of force policies should require officers to intervene if they witness other officers using excessive force.

In researching these standards for the last year, and in meeting with community leaders and law enforcement organizations and individuals, there is broad consensus that these principles should, and often do, govern use of force encounters. Additionally, these principles come directly from the recommendations of law enforcement professionals, including both individual officers and national groups and taskforces that have studied policing issues, and departments that are having success in reducing violence encounters between the police and the public.

Adopting these use-of-force reforms has been successful in other communities. Dallas and Las Vegas were able to cut their officer-involved deaths in half and their number of excessive force complaints have dramatically plummeted.

Our state Law Enforcement Standards Training board has indicated these principles are also entirely consistent statewide training standards. It is important to incorporate these principles in all written use of force policies because most citizens do not know how officers are trained, and current use of force policies in Wisconsin are derived from many different sources that are not consolidated into one policy easily accessible to the public.  We believe this will build community and law enforcement trust through more accountability and transparency. 

If we want officers to have other options available to them to reduce the likelihood of using force, they must receive continual training to acquire and enhance these skills. We are proposing that at least eight hours out of the current annual 24-hour annual training requirement focus on use of force options, with an emphasis on de-escalation tactics.  Though we know there are instances where force, including lethal force, must be used, our goal is to make sure officers receive continuous, regular training on their full range of options.

Our communities have witnessed both the tragedies of officer involved shootings and of officers being targeted for violence. Our goal is to heal wounds and reach consensus. We believe these are policies upon which we all can agree. We can move forward together in creating safer communities for everyone. Call your representative and senator and ask them to sign on to LRB 1260, LRB 1454, and LRB 3192.