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State task force on racial disparities in policing set to finalize recommendations

Published: Apr. 7, 2021 at 6:47 PM CDT
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WAUSAU, Wis. (WSAW) - The Speaker’s Task Force on Racial Disparities Subcommittee on Law Enforcement Policies and Standards is preparing to wrap up its meetings and make policy suggestions to the legislature. The task force, formed last year by Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) after a police shooting led to riots in Kenosha, is set to meet Thursday in Madison.

The bipartisan task force is made up of both Democrat and Republican state lawmakers and is led by Rep. Jim Steineke (R-Kaukauna) and Rep. Shelia Stubbs (D-Madison).

Two of the members of the task force are Tony Gonzalez and Yauo Yang, representing central Wisconsin and speaking up for the area’s needs.

Right now, they’re working to get Department of Justice money for a police program in our area, instead of having that money only go to bigger cities like Madison and Milwaukee. A suggested bill would exclude the Wausau area, but they’re advocating for language in the potential bill to be changed from “cities larger than 60,000” to “metropolitan areas larger than 60,000” so that Wausau could benefit from the DOJ grant.

“We need those kinds of funds to come to our area, so that we are actually building ahead of any problems that can come and start building that relationship with the police,” said Tony Gonzalez, noting his belief that proactive policing could be more effective in the Wausau area than in larger cities.

The grant would fund “police houses,” places where police can interact with people outside of emergencies. The program would be based on a model that worked well in Racine.

“Police would buy old buildings and remodel them and make them a very welcoming place for people to come in. You know, a pool table, couches, TVs and stuff like that. They’re a place where the community can come to, feel comfortable, and establish that relationship,” Gonzalez said.

The task force making those decisions is made up of everyone from retired police officers to minority community members.

“We’re going to do everything to ensure that our voices, those of the community, are heard. And they’re brought into some reasonable legislation,” he said.

They’re trying to find common ground on issues like no-knock warrants and chokeholds.

“What is reasonable? To what point? We have to be really careful about being too extreme on either side,” Gonzalez said, explaining that discussions have been most productive when both sides are willing to give a little.

They’re also discussing conditions for police de-certification.

“Make sure that if somebody has done wrong, and not followed the rules of conduct that they should follow, then they should be de-certified. But if it’s something minor, let’s make sure that this person is not eliminated from his line of work,” he said.

The goal was to suggest potential bills by January. But Gonzalez thinks working to make sure a wide variety of people agree on the recommendations, is what could make them stick in Madison.

“I would say that this task force is distinct from others in the past because we are the public…to where I believe most of the members of that task force are very satisfied of the progress that has been made. So this has no left and no right. We are really trying to strike a middle point,” he said. “The whole state is looking at us.”

Gonzalez is headed to Madison for that meeting Thursday. He says if they don’t finish up in time, they’re prepared to stay another day to get things finalized. Then it will be up to lawmakers to introduce the suggestions as bills.

“We’re sending a message to all of our legislators in our state of Wisconsin, to make sure they’re listening, put politics aside, and make sure they’re listening to this community and make some valuable legislation come through,” he said.

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