Published February 19, 2016, Written by Jeff Glaze
Permitting police officers to use Tasers in more situations and bolstering public understanding of how certain behaviors trigger greater use of force from police are among a variety of recommendations in a new report meant to help ease tensions and grow trust between minority communities and law enforcement.
The report was set for release Friday by the Dane County Chiefs of Police Association, the United Way of Dane County and the county branch of the NAACP.
Born out of tensions highlighted in Ferguson, Missouri, the Special Community/Police Task Force’s report on the use of force includes 35 pages of background and recommendations crafted between May and December by leaders from area police departments, nonprofit organizations and black churches. The groups provided the Wisconsin State Journal with an advance copy of the report Thursday.
Its recommendations target four key areas: policing practices and policy, officer training, community education and officer well-being – that are intended to eliminate mistrust between minorities and police officers by increasing transparency, improving training and fostering better communication.
Many of the suggestions are best practices that have already been adopted by Madison police, the sheriff’s office and some larger suburban departments.
But the Rev. Everett Mitchell — an activist, pastor and lawyer who served as co-chairman of the task force — said the report is meant to improve consistency for minorities across the county’s 27 police jurisdictions
“It’s not perfect. It wasn’t intended to be perfect,” said Mitchell, who is black. “This is a way for us to actually get a pathway for changing the branding of policing, to actually have an impact on how we are policed.”
Mitchell pointed to the report’s call to increase crisis de-escalation training and to use members of the public in training officers for implicit bias as two recommendations with a potentially high impact.
“When you have that kind of relationship where the myths are being broken down, you reduce the likelihood of officers feeling like they need to use deadly force or force in general,” Mitchell said.
The report suggests departments mandate in-house debriefings after all incidents that involve serious injury to an officer or citizen as a way to improve the handling of situations going forward.
It also calls for departments to review any use of force above compliant handcuffing, to track use-of-force statistics and to regularly release those statistics to the public.
It also recommends Dane County’s police agencies implement, or at least explore, use of officer body cameras. UW-Madison police have already implemented body cameras and a handful of other departments are studying or planning to implement them. Madison police have put body cameras on hold, following advice of a citizen-led panel.
When higher levels of force are necessary, the task force recommends departments allow officers to use Tasers in cases where another officer is not able to provide backup that could be lethal — something Fitchburg, Middleton and Sun Prairie have already done, but Madison has not.
“It’s not like we’ve reinvented new things. We’ve just emphasized some tactics given things that have happened nationally and locally,” said Middleton Police Chief Chuck Foulke, incoming president of the Chiefs of Police Association. “We’re telling our young cops to slow down, use your communication skills.”
The report places some emphasis on citizens’ roles in police relations.
It calls for minority-led groups to provide training on how to avoid escalation in encounters with police, and asks for expansion of restorative justice programs that allow offenders of low-level crimes to avoid the criminal justice system.
The study’s sponsors plan to issue a pair of similar task group reports on implicit bias and diversity within police departments.