Wisconsin’s new requirement for all deaths involving law enforcement officers to be investigated by external agencies  – the first law of its kind in the country – will have the biggest impact on police departments in larger cities.
Most of the state's smaller police departments already call in an outside investigator when someone dies during a confrontation with an officer. In larger cities like Milwaukee and Madison, the police department investigates itself. Those departments will now have to use an independent investigator.
Michael Tobin of the Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission says that could cause problems when the victim in such deaths doesn't die at the scene of the confrontation.
“Do we hold the scene open for several hours or several days after the incident to determine whether it’s going to involve a death or not?” said Tobin. “Whether we bring in investigators at that point or not, it's going to be one of the several issues these departments are going to have to consider when they put together their policies and procedures.”
In Dane County, police officials have found a way to deal with that already. University of Wisconsin-Madison police chief Sue Riseling heads a committee that will help all the law enforcement agencies in the county comply with the new law. Riseling says the plan is to sign an agreement between all agencies to provide investigators for any and all police-involved shootings and deaths.
“There could be a shootout and everybody misses,” said Riseling. “We're still going to use the investigative cadre to look at that shooting. Misses, wounded, killed – we are going to look at all facets of a police officer intentionally discharging his or her firearm at another person.“
So far this year there have been two police-involved deaths. In January a police officer in Milwaukee shot and killed an armed robbery suspect. In February, officers in Dunn County killed a man during a drug raid on his home.