During the listening session, law enforcement officers discussed why qualified immunity is essential to do their jobs, the national riots and conversation around defunding the police, the counterproductive measures in the Justice in Policing Act, and how Wisconsin should be a national model for policing reform.
“We continue to see great support by our community, but you know, law enforcement in general, it’s a difficult job. And then when we see different things on media, the media says certain things bad about law enforcement in general, it makes it difficult to continue to do your job. And then on the local level, when we see our congressional leaders say one thing and vote a different way, that makes it a lot more difficult to go out and do our job every day,” said Adams County Sheriff Brent York.
“What you’re going to create is a mass exit from law enforcement. Those that can retire will retire. They’re not going to continue in the career when they have personal liability at stake when they are trying to simply do their job, and the job that they were hired to do… Recruitment is going to be impossible. What we’re going to have is people who want to get into the line of work for the wrong reasons. Right now we have good law enforcement officers across the state of Wisconsin and across the nation, but they’re not going to take that chance. They’re not going to take a chance of losing their homes and losing their livelihoods because of frivolous lawsuits,” Dunn County Sheriff Kevin Bygd described what would happen if qualified immunity was taken away from law enforcement.
“Luckily I wasn’t into the downtown area, necessarily, where all the protests were taking place, but everybody else that I work with, it was pretty much a stand down, not able to intervene even if bodily harm was being done to somebody. They were saying, you know, they were calling 911, and they were saying ‘Ok, we’ll meet you at this certain area,’ but weren’t necessarily intervening. Well, you know, this chaos was taking place. So, like the sheriff had said, that a lot of departments that had seen that, that were going down there, that were dealing with the protest issues, didn’t want to put their own officers in harm because they essentially didn’t have the ability to protect themselves and they were told not to protect themselves,” Village of Wilton Police Chief Jeremy Likely described the experience of going to Madison to help the city’s police department with riot patrol.
“I put on my riot gear maybe a dozen times in an entire career, and yet all we’re seeing on television are police officers dressed up in riot gear and marching in formation. Well, you know that’s a necessary thing when we have rioting of the sorts we have now. But I’m convinced that this rioting is an intentional effort to force law enforcement to put on that uniform or that riot control gear, intentionally, to make police look like an occupying force in the media. And that can affect perceptions across the country, and it’s unfortunate. And I think we really have to speak out against it,” said retired City of La Crosse Police Chief Ed Kondracki.
“I believe it was 2013 when Wisconsin was the first state to pass legislation that required law enforcement agencies who have an officer involved in a death, that that investigation be completed by another law enforcement agency that does not employ that officer. Certainly, here in the state of Wisconsin, through the Department of Justice, the Division of Criminal Investigation does the majority of those officer involved deaths or officer involved shooting investigations. So, Wisconsin was the first to pass that legislation requiring that. That’s a good practice,” Monroe County Sheriff Wesley Revels described how Wisconsin has been on the forefront of policing reform.
“I just want to kind of leave people with the understanding that law enforcement is still a very noble and honorable profession. The men and women that get into this field do it because we’re called to do it. We’re called to come to our communities to serve, protect, willing to lay our lives down for those people that we protect. Every one of us sitting here is willing to do that. We’ve all thought about it. We’ve talked it over with our family, with our spouses, with our kids, ‘Hey, this is a potential.’ Are there bad eggs within our organizations? Absolutely. Do we try hard to get rid of them? Yes, because it taints the badge. And all of us everyday put that badge on, put the uniform on with the patches, take a lot of pride in that because the community has entrusted us to go out and protect them from the evils of the world,” Grant County Sheriff Nate Dreckman said in closing remarks.
“Wisconsin is leading the nation in forward-thinking police reforms, and the expertise that our law enforcement officers bring to the table should be heard and valued. That is the opposite of what has been done by our current congressman Ron Kind, who recently cosponsored and helped pass legislation that has been opposed by national police groups and many here in our district. The men and women of law enforcement need to be included in this conversation, and as citizens, we need to be informed on the issues they face so we can be better advocates for law enforcement in our own communities. I wanted to give our law enforcement officers a platform to share their message about policies being debated in Washington, D.C. and what measures they support,” stated Ebben.