Fri February 1, 2013
Watching The Watchmen: Citizens Ask For Better Police Review
Advocates for changing the way police departments investigate fatal police shootings are hopeful the legislature may take up their cause this year.
Neighbors of a man shot to death on Madison's east side in November gathered at a church this week to ask a panel of police officials why the department isn't holding the police officer accountable. Tim Corson told the panel the investigation is obviously biased: “We have a situation with a Madison police officer killing an unarmed citizen, and then the police department investigating and exonerating itself. How does this represent a fair and impartial process that serves the best interest of preserving public safety?”
Kenosha resident Michael Bell has been asking the same question for the past 8 years. He started putting it up on billboards across the state after his unarmed 21-year-old son was killed by a police officer after a traffic stop. An internal investigation exonerated the officer; Bell's family later won an out-of-court settlement with the city of Kenosha for nearly 2 million dollars. They're using the money to campaign for reforms. Last week Bell agreed not to put up any new billboards while he negotiates with the statewide police union. He hopes to convince them to support his reform efforts.
The head of the police union, Jim Palmer, says he's glad what police considered an unfairly negative ad campaign will stop, but he's not convinced yet his members will back any reforms. “Perhaps there is common ground, but I told him that was not a conversation we were going to have at the tip of a sword.”
Republican state Representative Garey Bies say he's ready to back a bill that would require all police agencies to use the same independent review process for police shootings. He's asked the attorney general’s office to help draft the bill.