Police departments in both Wisconsin and Minnesota are facing strong citizen pressure to change the procedure for investigating incidents around police-involved deaths.
In Wisconsin, a bill that got a hearing two weeks ago would require an independent investigation of every police-involved death. It faces opposition from the statewide police union and state Attorney General J. B. Van Hollen, who calls it “a solution in search of a problem.” He says it's hard to find situations where police killed a suspect without justification.
“We have even fewer circumstances where you can find that the investigation or follow up was flawed,” Van Hollen said, “So here we're going to develop a whole new bureaucracy, potentially having academics — who have never been in the field — looking over the shoulders of law enforcement leaders who understand what happens in the real world and second guessing them.”
In Minnesota last week, Gov. Mark Dayton blocked an effort by Minneapolis Police Chief Janeé Harteau to require the State Bureau of Criminal Apprehension to investigate all police-involved deaths, changing a policy in which the police department investigated itself.
At a hearing on the Wisconsin bill, Amelia Royko-Maurer — whose friend and roommate was killed by Madison police in November 2012 — said it's time to change a system that allows police chiefs to oversee the investigation of their own officers when they kill a suspect.
“[Police chiefs] don't want this law to pass,” Royko-Maurer says. “There are some who back it. There are probably some who don't want their culture looked at that deeply. It's theirs. They're the top dog in their city. They have the most power in the state of Wisconsin in their city. Minimizing the great potential for bias should not be up to the chief.”
It's uncertain whether the Wisconsin bill will make it to the floor of the legislature during the January session.