On March 18, 2021, Badger Institute Policy Analyst Julie Grace testified in favor of 2021 SB 120, SB 122, and SB 123 before the Wisconsin Senate Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety.
Read a transcript of Julie’s testimony below.
Senator Wanggaard and Members of the Committee:
Thank you for allowing me to testify today in support of three bills: Senate Bill 120, which would require law enforcement agencies to specify when and how to report use of force, Senate Bill 122, which would require law enforcement agencies to post their use-of-force policies on a publicly available website and Senate Bill 123, which would require the Department of Justice to collect and publish data on use-of-force incidents. We believe these bills would increase transparency and accountability among police departments across the state and improve trust among the citizens they serve.
Last year we attempted to determine just how often force is used by police officers across the state and how police departments discipline their officers when inappropriate use-of-force incidents occur. Our complete findings are available in a special report1 we published in November, but I will share with you today a few takeaways from this research that SB 120, 122 and 123 would at least partially address.
Data on use-of-force incidents is difficult to find due to a lack of both standards and legal requirements for reporting. Without this information, it is nearly impossible to compare similar-sized police departments or those that handle similar levels of crime to determine which are outliers deserving closer scrutiny.
To get a sense of how often force is used, we looked at data from the state’s three largest cities – Milwaukee, Madison and Green Bay. In Milwaukee and Madison, we found that one of every 29 or 30 arrests includes some type of force. It was more difficult to compare use-of-force incidents in Green Bay because of the way that police department tracks and reports data.
We also found that a majority of the use-of-force incidents involve physical contact between police officers and citizens or the use of tasers and pepper spray. The most common type of force reported was the use of bodily force, which accounted for 71.5% of use-of-force incidents in Madison, 72.7% of the incidents in Green Bay and 72.5% of those in Milwaukee – all strikingly similar rates.
It’s important to note that the vast majority of citizen encounters with police do not result in an arrest. For example, in Madison in 2019 there were 8,330 arrests out of 145,205 calls for service.
Unfortunately, there is little information available on smaller law enforcement agencies’ use of force and no comprehensive statewide database. The bills you’re considering today would take a step toward the uniform compilation and reporting of statewide data.
Although police use of force is rare, the compilation of uniform, publicly available, statewide data would go a long way toward determining trends, establishing effective practices, identifying problem areas and building trust among citizens and their police departments.
In addition to gathering and reporting better data, we recommend statutory requirements for creating greater transparency regarding police disciplinary actions; the extension of Act 10 to restore responsibility to department leaders and politicians, and expedite removal of officers who have acted inappropriately; ending arbitration for disciplinary cases; extending probationary periods; and requiring police officers’ employee files to be shared when they apply for positions within a new department.
The Badger Institute supports SB 120, 122 and 123; however, we recommend amending SB 123 to require departments to report all use-of-force incidents, not just those where there was a shooting, a firearm discharge or other serious bodily harm.
(1) Just the Facts (November 2020) https://www.badgerinstitute.org/BI-Files/Corrections-reform/BadgerReport_Trilogy_Nov2020Fnl-web.pdf