Wisconsin governor signs police investigation bill

|
News,Business,Crime,Law Enforcement

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin police departments will have to allow outside investigators to run officer-involved death investigations under a bill Republican Gov. Scott Walker signed into law Wednesday.

The measure was among 55 bills Walker signed at the state Capitol as he puts the finishing touches on the two-year legislative session and prepares to focus on his re-election campaign. His office released a list of all the bills with a short summary of each; the officer-involved entry said the measure would increase public confidence in police investigations.

The bill requires agencies to initiate criminal investigations whenever an officer is involved in a person's death. The investigation must involve at least two outside investigators and one of them must lead the inquiry. The investigators would utlimately submit a report to prosecutors, who will make the final call on whether to file charges.

Most smaller Wisconsin agencies already use outside investigators to handle officer-involved death investigations. Larger departments such as Green Bay, Madison and Milwaukee, however, typically investigate their own personnel. The bill's supporters contend the measure will alleviate concerns about police covering up for co-workers' mistakes and lend credibility to investigators' conclusions.

According to the state Justice Department, Wisconsin police departments reported that officers killed 41 people between June 2008 and April 2013, and every incident was ruled justified.

The measure's chief sponsors, Reps. Garey Bies, R-Sister Bay, and Chris Taylor, D-Madison, said they introduced the bill in response to the deaths of Michael Bell, whom Kenosha police shot in the head as he fought with officers in 2004; robbery suspect Derek Williams, who died gasping for breath and begging for help in a Milwaukee squad car in 2011; and Paul Heenan, whom a Madison officer shot to death during a scuffle in 2012. None of the officers were charged criminally.

"There has always been agreement that if the initial investigation isn't handled correctly everything spirals downhill from there," Bies, a former sheriff's deputy, said in a statement Wednesday. "An independent investigation process allows all parties involved to move forward with some peace of mind."

Other notable bills the governor signed included measures to:

—Tighten Wisconsin's human trafficking laws and give victims a chance to ask a judge to void any crimes they may have committed, such as prostitution, while they were being trafficked.

—Bar anyone under 18 from officiating at a Wisconsin wedding.

—Prohibit police from tracking cellphone locations without a warrant. Police will have to present details about their investigation as well as statements of the crime and probable cause on how tracking the phone is related to criminal activity to obtain a warrant.

—Allow chiropractors, dentists, podiatrists and optometrists to withhold information on alternative treatments from patients. Wisconsin doctors already are allowed to withhold information on alternative treatments.

—Give wastewater plants, paper mills and food processors up to 20 years to comply with Wisconsin's phosphorous discharge limits. The bill calls for asking federal officials to approve a statewide exemption from the state rules, allowing dischargers to ask the state for up to four five-year exemptions. Each exemption would carry a progressively tougher discharge limit.

—Increases the minimum fine for parking illegally in a disabled spot from $50 to $150.

—Require the Department of Corrections to notify local police when certain out-of-state sex offenders move into their jurisdictions. The bipartisan measure requires the department to notify the local police chief and the sheriff if the move-in offender has been convicted or found not guilty by reason of mental disease of a sex offense two or more times. The department can choose to notify the local police if the move-in offender has been convicted or found not guilty by reason of mental disease only once.

View article comments Leave a comment