Finally we began to get some movement, helped by a friendly Republican legislator, Garey Bies, and a Democratic assemblyman named Chris Taylor, in August of 2012. In April of this year we passed a law that made Wisconsin the first state in the nation to mandate at legislative level that police-related deaths be reviewed by an outside agency. Ten days after it went into effect in May, local police shot a man sleeping on a park bench 15 times. It’s one of the first incidents to be investigated under the new law.
So, that’s great and other states are looking to Wisconsin as a model for how to respond to officer-involved killings. But such models only work if they are followed. In the killing of Dontre Hamilton, a black man with psychiatric disabilities, they weren’t.
A former state legislator who co-sponsored a law requiring independent investigation of those deaths says the Milwaukee Police Department and state Department of Justice didn’t comply following the death of Dontre Hamilton.
“Milwaukee just thinks they’re different from the rest of the state and they just do things their own way, and until somebody makes them accountable for their actions, they’re going to continue,” said Garey Bies, a Republican who represented Sister Bay in the Legislature for 13 years. “The citizens of Milwaukee should be insisting that they abide by the law the way the rest of the state has to.”
The piece goes on to give background on the law, detail the way it wasn’t followed in this case, and quote lawmakers and advocates on their hopes for the future. Here’s the point I want to make, though. When we build new systems of police accountability, we also must build in consequences for not following through on those systems. Too often I see stories in which resources and oversight were available, not used, and there are no professional consequences.