La Crosse County Residents Weigh In On Proposed Citizen Oversight Board For Police

After A Call For More Transparency, Officials Hope New Board Would Give Civilians More Input On Law Enforcement

Lights on a police car

La Crosse County leaders are gathering public input on the possible creation of a citizen oversight board for local law enforcement.

Joella Striebel, a citizen member of La Crosse County Criminal Justice Management Council, said the idea came from local protests this summer, after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

“There was a call to the mayor (of La Crosse) for more accountability, more transparency,” Striebel said.

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Striebel said part of that call included expanding civilian oversight of local law enforcement. She said the county’s Criminal Justice Management Council, which serves as an advisory committee to the county board, has been exploring the idea throughout the summer.

The council partnered with the City of La Crosse to hold an online listening session on Tuesday, where members of the public could speak or have their written comments read.

Nine residents submitted comments, all in favor of creating a citizen board. But ideas differed around the purpose of the new body.

Several residents called for the board to create an easier way for citizens to submit complaints about police misconduct and hold officers accountable.

“I’d like to try to make sure that this committee has teeth,” said Garrett Denning of La Crosse. “I don’t know how to do that because there are so many things that protect cops in this manner. But I want to express that as a major concern for me, on par with transparency, possibly even more important.”

But other residents that submitted written comments said the board should not investigate allegations of misconduct or have authority over police personnel. They called for the board to foster better understanding and goodwill between law enforcement and the public.

La Crosse Mayor Tim Kabat acknowledged the conflicting views and said there are also different ideas on the board’s purpose among leadership.

“I feel confident we’re going to get to the answers and to the board that’s going to fit the needs of our area. And I think part of that is asking law enforcement,” Kabat said.

He said the council hopes to hear from law enforcement leadership about where they would like to see more public input.

Kabat said the city is also working on Police Department transparency outside of work on a citizen oversight board. He said officials hope to make improvements to the city’s website and social media to make it more clear how people can file a complaint against the police.

Monica Kruse, chair of the La Crosse County Board, said the council will continue to take public comment on the oversight board through email and be responsive to what residents would like to see.

“We’re not going into this with our minds made up what we want it to look like,” Kruse said. “We want to make sure that when we have a board like this, that it’s effective. It shouldn’t just be a kind of window dressing. It shouldn’t just be another commission that we can put in the books and say ‘Oh yeah, we have that.’”

She said she hopes to have parameters for the new board sometime next year.