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Members of state task force on racial disparities spar on several issues related to policing

There was disagreement on defining “use of force”
Published: Apr. 8, 2021 at 6:37 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WBAY) - The Assembly Speaker’s task force on racial disparities met Thursday and the conversation turned contentious at times, especially on the topics of when officers can use force and no knock warrants.

“So I feel the frustration and tension in the room and I think that at the end of the day, we are all at least on the surface trying to move this ship in the same direction,” Keetra Burnette of the United Way of Dane County and Urban League of Greater Madison said.

Burnette’s one of the sixteen members serving on the task force’s subcommittee on policing.

There were disagreements among those in attendance on defining excessive use of force by police.

“I don’t know what we’re here for if all we do is defer to law enforcement as experts. Clearly there’s something wrong,” Fred Royal, Milwaukee chapter president of the NAACP, said.

Several of those representing the law enforcement community pushed back against the ideas of community activists seeking accountability on the use of force.

“There is going to be insistences of excessive force a small percentage of the time. You cannot have a policy that will eliminate excessive force. It’s not possible,” West Allis Police Chief Patrick Mitchell said.

Wisconsin does not have a statewide standard on the use of force. Each law enforcement agency makes its own policy using guidance from the Wisconsin Department of Justice.

“What’s really important to me is to make sure we walk out of this room with a unified definition of use of force. Every municipality does it their own way and to me that’s problematic,” Rep. Shelia Stubbs, (D) Madison, said.

Speaker Robin Vos, (R) Rochester, formed the 32 member task force last year in response to the racial unrest. It has two subcommittees with 16 members focused on education and the other 16 on policing.

Representatives Jim Steineke, (R) Kaukauna and Stubbs co-chair the subcommittee on law enforcement.

Steineke came under fire in February when an email of him calling the task force a “political loser” went public.

He told Action 2 News that was said before the group formed and he called the discussions they’ve had since productive.

“Really what it was was a political analysis of the difficulty of the job in front of us that no matter what we did, that when the final result came out, we’re going to have people that are pushing back from all sides on this,” Steineke said.

The group is planning to meet next Friday to issue its recommendations to address the racial disparities in Wisconsin.

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