A Democratic state lawmaker is proposing every police department in Wisconsin should have a set of specific standards in its use of force policy, but some in the law enforcement community don't like the idea.
Rep. Chris Taylor, of Madison, has been working on two bills related to use of force for the past year, in an effort to minimize the number of officer-involved deaths we've seen in the area.
One of those bills would require all departments to add four hours of de-escalation training every year, in addition to already required training in gun use and car chases.
"Training officers in de-escalation, but also requiring it as a tactic to be used, as something that should be used when able to use it, to really slow down and stabilize a situation," Taylor tells 27 News.
Madison College's Criminal Justice Chair and law enforcement trainer Brian Landers says training in de-escalation alone is dangerous. His program combines those tactics with other techniques to keep an officer safe in a volatile situation.
"Our force transition course does cover de-escalation tactics & techniques, but it also prepares an officer to consider and to better prepare themselves for situations in which time is not available to the officer, and you have to either de-escalate or increase force," Landers says.
Landers does agree the overall idea of a more streamlined use of force policy in Wisconsin is something the state should consider. He says right now, some agencies don't provide any specific use of force training after officers graduate the academy. Every department in Dane County and some in neighboring areas have gone through his course that started two years ago.
The other bill would require all departments' use of force policies to include five, general goals: the primary duty of officers is to preserve life; deadly force can only be used as a last resort; do not exceed the threat posed to an officer or the public; use de-escalation techniques unless impossible to do so; and officers must take action to intervene if another officer is using excessive force.
Taylor says these common themes are all included in use of force policies at departments that have seen success in reducing officer-involved deaths. She also based the ideas off recommendations from former President Obama's Task Force on 21st Century Policing. She says the standards being used by many departments are based on 30-year-old federal requirements that are very broad.
"My goal really is to make a statement that these are principles that I believe my community supports and I really think law enforcement supports a lot of these principles," says Taylor.
But some in the law enforcement community find the concept of that bill offensive.
"It presumes that these things aren't already occurring and that's a problem. I think it's offensive to most officers in the fact that officers view their duty to preserve human life as foundational to why they've chosen this form of public service, so to have a bill that would state that explicitly is a little insulting," says Jim Palmer, executive director of the Wisconsin Professional Police Association.
The policy changes would be redundant because most departments already follow those guidelines, according to Palmer. He says it's likely the WPPA board would be skeptical of the bills.
Taylor expects to finish drafting the proposals and present them to other lawmakers next week.