9 Fatal Police-Involved Shootings Were Investigated Under New Law In 2014

In All Cases, Use Of Lethal Force Was Found To Be Justified


Ten people have died in officer-involved shootings in Wisconsin this year, and because of a new state law, all but one of those deaths were investigated by an independent agency and not by the police department the officer worked for.

The first fatal police shooting of the year took place in Milwaukee on Jan. 29, before the new law went into effect. A police officer shot an armed robbery suspect, 19-year-old Cornelius Turner. According to an internal investigation, Turner was reaching for a gun in his waistband when a police officer shot and killed him.

The incident was ruled a justified use of lethal force — as were the nine other incidents that have been investigated so far this year.

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In six of them, the victims were armed with either a knife or a gun when a police officer shot them. Four of the victims were suffering from a serious mental illness. In two of those cases, the victim was armed and had beaten or stabbed other people before police arrived on the scene.

Milwaukee Police Chief Ed Flynn said that too often, officers are forced to play the role of mental health providers.

“You know, society needs to start funding better all the other institutions and agencies that exist but are chronically underfunded,” said Flynn. “Because in our spare time we are also fighting crime, fear and disorder. Even as we recognize the importance of handling mental health issues sensitively and thoughtfully, we can’t always prevent them erupting into violence.”

One of the architects of the new independent investigation law, Madison resident Amelia Royko Maurer, said the mental health of police officers may also play a role in such incidents. She said police officers get a mental health assessment when they’re hired, but ought to be screened regularly throughout their career.

“I can’t imagine why it would make sense to screen them in the beginning and then after enduring all of the ugly side of policing, not continue to screen them to make sure they are mentally fit,” said Royko Maurer.

Most police departments provide voluntary mental health check-ups for officers. Royko Maurer would like to see them made mandatory.

Another backer of the new law said that investigations of police shootings should include blood tests for the police officer who fired the fatal shot to determine if they were under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Michael Bell, a Kenosha resident whose son was killed by police in 2004, fought unsuccessfully to have that provision included in the law.

“They’re human and subject to the same performance issues that happen to other people,” said Bell. “But they’re rarely investigated, where almost every time a person is killed by a police officer their physiology is taken and flaunted in front of the public, especially when it’s very damning.”

Mandatory blood tests for police officers involved in lethal force incidents face strong opposition from police unions.

However, the public outcry over the April 30 shooting of a mentally ill man in Milwaukee has prompted Mayor Tom Barrett to call for more crisis intervention training for police officers.

“You need to learn how to bring the temperature down, figuratively speaking, so that you can talk to the individual,” said Barrett. “And I think the training will only strengthen our department and make the people that work for the Police Department better at protecting the community and protecting themselves, ultimately.”

Training all the city’s police officers will cost $1.2 million. Barrett said the Greater Milwaukee Foundation has already agreed to contribute half a million dollars. Training is expected to begin in January.

Here’s a table breaking down officer-involved shootings in 2014:

Data courtesy of Wisconsin Professional Police Association.