Proposed Changes To Wisconsin Policing Laws Would Limit, Not Ban, Chokeholds

The state Senate will start reviewing recommendations from a police reform task force Tuesday. Bills under consideration include community policing and stricter rules for fire and police commissions. 

But a more controversial change to the use of chokeholds could be coming. 

State Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee, told the Milwaukee Press Club on Monday that reform efforts were happening behind the scenes even before the widespread unrest following the killing of George Floyd by Derek Chauvin, a former Minneapolis police officer, last summer.

“What you see is our effort to try to bring all the different opinions together to try to do something in Wisconsin,” Taylor said. “It’s not the perfect, but I promise you it’s better than where we are.”

Taylor was joined at the virtual Press Club event by State Sen. Van Wanggaard, R-Racine. Wanggaard heads the Senate’s judiciary committee and has been working with the task force, which was created in the Assembly.

Some proposals, are similar to previous proposals from Gov. Tony Evers. Other plans, like the group’s recommendation to limit chokeholds, don’t go as far as Evers’ plan, which would ban chokeholds entirely. 

Last week, the Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission banned all chokeholds without exception.

Taylor told the Press Club she understands the concept of a full ban. In the state of Wisconsin, police departments don’t train their officers on chokeholds, Taylor said. Still, she doesn’t support a complete ban.

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She said the state proposal will narrow the use of chokeholds to when an officers’ life is in danger.

“We are talking about what happens across the entire state,” Taylor said. “No one is going to be allowed to do that and get away with it and get a pass.”  

Across the country, many communities have begun banning chokeholds.

Wanggaard, a former cop in Racine, said he would never want to take away the ability of a police officer to save their own life.  

“We have body cameras; we’re working on that so people have a view of what’s happening,” Wanggaard said. “If I’m going to use that chokehold, I have to be able to articulate why I did that and what those circumstances were.”

Taylor said she believes the bills will pass the Assembly and the Senate. She said when people actually read the bills, they are more supportive, and she believes Evers will sign most, if not all of them.

“I don’t know if the governor will be able to overcome a veto override if he were to veto them,” Taylor said.