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Changes proposed for officer-involved shooting reviews

By Jessica Arp,
Published On: Sep 05 2013 06:08:41 PM CDT
Updated On: Sep 05 2013 07:40:44 PM CDT


A bill in the state Legislature wants to change the way local police react after an officer-involved shooting. The measure would prevent police from investigating themselves.

Reps. Gary Bies, R-Sister Bay, and Chris Taylor, D-Madison, have joined forces on the bill, which would require independent investigations of officer-involved shootings. Two members of the three-member panel would come from outside the department, and the panel would provide a recommendation to the district attorney on whether an officer's actions were justified.

The authors of the bill said the recent focus on shootings in Madison made them question how the process works, and families involved said the measure is the culmination of years of work.

"As I watched the process unfold in my community, I realized there is a better process here that is more transparent and more open so the community has greater confidence about what follows when you have an officer-involved shooting," said Taylor.

The bill comes after three officer-involved shootings in Madison in the last nine months. Most recently the Madison Police Department said they would conduct an internal investigation into three officers after the August shooting death of Charles Carll on the city's west side. It's the same process that found MPD Officer Stephen Heimsness justified in the November killing of Paul Heenan on Baldwin Street.

Bies and Taylor said this bill would be the first of its kind in the country.

"I think it's something (police departments) don't like to deal with until it happens and then everybody has their own way of dealing with it," said Bies. "I think that inconsistency is what causes the public to wonder what's really going on."

The bill is the life's work of Michael Bell, whose son was killed by Kenosha police in November of 2004.

"My son was killed November 9, 2004 and in November it will be nine full years," said Bell. "From day one, if you look at the interviews we have done and the press releases, we have questioned the review process. This is what we have been working for."

A spokesman for the MPD said Police Chief Noble Wray has been generally supportive of this proposal in the past, but hasn't seen the new language.

The Wisconsin Professional Police Association said they are reviewing the bill with their membership and are "willing to explore improvements in the law."

Friends of Paul Heenan, Amelia and Nathan Royko-Maurer, told WISC-TV from out of town Thursday that that they are thrilled to see lawmakers on both sides of the aisle work on the issue.

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