As previously reported here, the Wisconsin State Assembly has passed a bill that would end the practice where law enforcement agencies investigate themselves after a death in police custody. Under the bill, a team of at least two investigators from an outside agency would investigate in-custody deaths. Reports from the investigation would also be released to the public if criminal charges were not filed against the law enforcement officers involved.
The Wisconsin State Senate is currently considering the bill. At a public hearing on Thursday, February 27, 2014, Senator Jerry Petrowski (R-Marathon) indicated his support for the bill, stating that it was important that investigations into police-custody deaths are independent. Senator Petrowski said that he intends to move the bill through his committee, so that the entire Senate could vote on the bill by April. Also at the hearing, City of Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission Executive Director Michael Tobin testified regarding the bill, allegedly for informational purposes only, stating his belief that the bill would result in less accountability because outside agencies conducting the investigation would not be accountable to the local community. The bill’s author, State Representative Garey Bies (R-Sister Bay) criticized Mr. Tobin’s testimony, stating that Mr. Tobin “testified as if he was against the bill.” Representative Bies also stated that there would be local accountability under the bill, because local district attorneys would still be the ones deciding whether there should be criminal charges filed against law enforcement officers involved in police custody death incidents.