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WI Could Lead Nation in Investigating Deaths Involving Police

PHOTO: Rep. Chris Taylor (D-Madison) says there was broad bipartisan support for a bill she co-authored, that will make Wisconsin the first state in the nation to require outside investigation of police-involved shootings that result in a death. (Photo from Rep. Taylor's office)
PHOTO: Rep. Chris Taylor (D-Madison) says there was broad bipartisan support for a bill she co-authored, that will make Wisconsin the first state in the nation to require outside investigation of police-involved shootings that result in a death. (Photo from Rep. Taylor's office)
April 9, 2014

MADISON, Wis. - When there's a death involving the actions of a law-enforcement officer in Wisconsin, the officer's own agency investigates the incident. However, both houses of the state Legislature have just passed a bill that requires outside investigators to run the probes.

Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison, was a co-author of the bill, which she said had broad public support.

"I think the public is really aware that we need a fairer process," she said, "that there is some potential for bias when an officer's own agency is investigating whether he or she committed a crime in a police shooting or some other kind of in-custody death."

A survey conducted by the Wisconsin Professional Police Association showed 81 percent of Wisconsinites supported the bill, which would make Wisconsin the first state in the nation to require outside investigations of police-involved deaths. Taylor said the bill fosters much more accountability in such incidents.

"It does require that the investigation, the report, be released if there is no charging decision," she said. "If there's no charges brought, the investigatory report has to be released to the public, so that offers some degree of accountability and transparency, which is not currently the case."

The next step will be for Gov. Scott Walker to sign the bill, which he is expected to do later this month.

Taylor, who co-authored the bill with Rep. Garey Bies, R-Sister Bay, a former deputy sheriff, said the entire process was bipartisan.

"It was unanimous in the Assembly, it passed unanimously; it passed unanimously in the Senate," she said. "We have the support of law enforcement, we have the support of families who have been impacted, and community advocates who have been very engaged, so it's a real bipartisan consensus bill."

Taylor said the new law won't bring loved ones back, but will establish a more fair and transparent process.

The text of the legislation, AB 409, is online at docs.legis.wisconsin.gov.

Tim Morrissey, Public News Service - WI