State Sen. Lena Taylor said she will be addressing what she calls inadequacies in a Wisconsin law that requires officer-involved incidents resulting in death to be investigated by law enforcement personnel who are not employed by the same department as the officer.
Taylor, who represents the 4th District, cited a need for additional communication regarding the investigation process as well as an increase of funds so that such investigations can proceed in a more timely fashion. Taylor said those changes will in turn will lead to a decrease in the amount of distrust the public has about the process.
The Wisconsin Officer Involved Death Legislation was passed by the Assembly and the Senate in April 2014 with bipartisan support and was signed into law by Governor Walker. Taylor said she was influential in getting the Senate on board with the legislation and worked closely with Rep. Gary Bies, who introduced the bill. It is believed that at the time of its passing this was the only legislation of its kind in the country.
"An overwhelming majority of police officers follow procedures and do a good job of protecting and serving the public," Walker said in a statement released after the signing. "This bill just adds another level of transparency in the investigation process."
Anderson case procedure gave Taylor a reason to take a closer look
Taylor said the subject of changing the bill has emerged after she observed how the process has played out across the state. Her recent involvement observing the investigation of the June 2016 Madison Park shooting of Jay Anderson, Jr. has been a clear example of the law's shortcomings.
"People don't understand the process and who to contact," Taylor said. "That process needs to be more transparent. It's a balance between keeping the public informed and not hampering the investigation."
Taylor used the example of the Anderson case to demonstrate how the law currently operates: The case was assigned by the State Attorney General's office to the Milwaukee County District Attorney's office. The Milwaukee County DA's office employed the Milwaukee Police Department, which is conducting the investigation utilizing available resources including on-duty officers. Taylor said this leaves the investigation subject to doubts about whether there are conflicts of interest present.
Changes needed in the law
"We need to consider if there should be a special prosecutor instead of the A.G. and take it out of the hands of the local DA," Taylor said. "Since (the DA) works so closely with the law enforcement community."
According to Taylor, other shortcomings that have emerged regarding the law are the amounts of diversity in the makeup of the investigators and the lack of staff that leads to inadequacies in the process.
"We have to get them a team so that they can secure the scene quickly after an occurrence," Taylor said. "That becomes difficult if there is no one available. Who is responsible for the evidence?"
Taylor said she is not the only person who has noticed that a lack of funds has left the bill short of its intended purpose.
"I want to give the A.G. credit," Taylor said. "He asked for more money and the GOP would not do it."
Officer-involved shootings have been happening in parts of the state other than southeast Wisconsin since the legislation was enacted. Taylor said she thinks other communities will aid her cause in getting the law changed as they experience the current process. She is further concerned that the data is being collected differently by the state's various agencies.
"We have an opportunity to be the leaders," Taylor said. "In helping people to get the answers they seek. It adds trust when we add transparency to the process."
The Milwaukee County District Attorney's office declined to comment for this story.