La Crosse County supervisors refer creation of citizens police oversight board back to committee

Sheriffs Car 2
(WKBT/News 8 Now photo)

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) — The possibility of creating a formal citizens police oversight committee remains a volatile issue in La Crosse County, as the County Board kicked a resolution to create a study group back to its original committee Thursday night.
The controversy during nearly an hour of debate pivoted around whether an oversight committee represents an attack on law enforcement vs. whether some segments of the community — especially brown and black residents — believe they have no recourse if they feel like law enforcement mistreats them.
The board’s executive committee recommended approval of a resolution to have the county’s Criminal Justice Management Council form an ad hoc committee to study whether a multi-jurisdictional oversight unit is feasible.  A council subcommittee has studied the topic for more than a year.
“I think it is a good idea, good-intentioned and well-written,” Supervisor Steve Doyle said.
However, emails he and other supervisors have received and discussions he has had with law enforcement and others have revealed “very much a split in our community,” Doyle said.
One side insists that there is no problem with policing, while the other contends that there is, he said.
“I would submit that’s not the question,” Doyle said. “The question is can we do better?”
While the intent of the proposal is for “better, safer and more transparent” policing, law enforcement “fears that this is aimed at them. This is intended to ‘get’ the police and punish them. … That is the perception,” Doyle said.
“What we want is for both sides to say that’s a really good idea,” he said. “Let’s make La Crosse County the pride of our state.”
While moving to send the idea back to the Criminal Justice Management Council and seek more input from law enforcement, Doyle said the council should be directed to bring the issue back to the board.
“I don’t want it to go there and die,” he said.
Several board members said law enforcement is doing a fine job. Some indicated that the move has resulted in part from national controversies about police amid massive unrest.
“I think our officers are doing wonderful out there, and I don’t see the need for people to be looking over their shoulders,” said Supervisor David Hundt.
Echoing support for law enforcement, Supervisor Peggy Isola said, “I think the whole point is to give people a voice” who have had negative contacts with police.
“I can’t speak for people who’ve had different experiences,” she said.
Asked for his view, Sheriff Jeff Wolf said, “I asked from the beginning whether law enforcement could be involved. I was told they didn’t want active law enforcement.
“When told we can’t be part of this, that’s an attack on use because we want to do better,” Wolf said. “Law enforcement wants to be part of the solution, not the problem.”
Several supervisors noted that the resolution to form the study committee doesn’t mean it will come to fruition but rather, it would be a feasibility study.
Under the resolution, the County Board would form an ad hoc Study Committee on an Independent Police Oversight Committee, with the county board chair appointing members, subject to approval of the full board.
Committee members would include “law enforcement, policy and decision-makers for agencies and municipalities; and community stakeholders including victim advocates, representatives of disproportionately impacted communities, subject matter experts, criminal legal system researchers, representatives with legal, civil rights or law enforcement expertise.”