Local law enforcement agencies give insight into training as public calls for transparency

LA CROSSE COUNTY, Wis. (WKBT)– The death of George Floyd has brought renewed scrutiny to law enforcement training. Local enforcement agencies are considering what they can do to make this more transparent.

When Holmen Police Chief Shane Collins started his training about 17 years ago, the requirements were vastly different.

“Which is a good thing,” Collins said.

Even just a few years ago, the state’s requirement went from 520 hours to 720 hours of training, according to the Wisconsin Department of Justice. It covers everything from decision making to professional conduct and biased policing.

“It teaches them a lot of valuable information. When they come out, they’re pretty much ready to go out,” Collins said.

Each year, they have to finish at least 24 hours of additional training for things like firearms and driving. It could also include information on force intervention and cultural diversity among others, but it’s left up to an officer’s employer, according to the state’s Law Enforcement Standards Board.

But some departments receive much more annual training.

“All of our deputies have averaged over 80 hours of training. All of our jail staff [and] correctional officers have over 40 hours of training on an annual basis,” said La Crosse County Sheriff Jeff Wolf.

If someone were to violate policies or there’s a question of conduct, there would be a review.

“Ultimately any investigation does come to me as an administrator of the agency,” Wolf said.

Over the last three years, there’s only been one time when a sheriff’s department staff member was disciplined, according to open records request by News 8 Now. And there was one other time when a deputy was counseled on handling complaints.

The complaints received about the Sheriff’s Department Patrol Division include:
* Complaint filed in 2019 in regards to a use of force incident which occurred in 2015.  The complainant claimed he was injured in a car accident and deputies used excessive force in making an arrest.  Investigation revealed that the complainant fled from law enforcement following a driving complaint.  Complainant crashed and fled into the woods.  Deputies gave verbal commands to come out of the woods and complainant made threats to shoot deputies.  K-9 was deployed who bit complainant.  Complainant continued to be non-compliant and taser was used.  A review of reports and squad cameras was conducted.  The investigation determined deputies used the appropriate amount of force to overcome the threat and followed K-9 and taser policies.  Case was closed and unfounded.  (2015)
*  Complaint of officer misconduct.  The complainant was stopped by law enforcement for a driving complaint.  After release, the complainant went home and called to report various driving complaints he had observed on his way home.  The complainant would only speak to deputies through a partially opened window.  The complaint was that deputies were unprofessional.  An investigation discovered that the deputies could not see the complainant or his hands.  The situation was de-escalated and deputies followed procedure and left the residence.  Deputies counseled on how to handle a similar complaint in the future.  (2019)

Complaints received about the Jail Division:
*  Complaint that jail would not take partial payment of bond.  Staff followed the policy of not taking a partial bond.  Unfounded. (2019)
*  Complaint of lost pair of glasses.  Unfounded (2019)
*  Complaint of receiving expired milk from food provider.  Resolved.  (2019)
*  Compliant of inappropriate comment by jailer.  Unfounded.  (2019)
*  Complaint by a female inmate that female jailer inappropriately conducted a search.  Unfounded when the complainant changed the story and dropped the complaint.  (2020)
*  Complaint of jailer unprofessional in directing an inmate to exit a block.  Staff member admitted to making a statement about drug addiction.  Discipline imposed.  (2020)

“I attribute that to the dedication to training,” Wolf said.

But now as the public is calling attention to transparency in training and policing policies, the Holmen Police Department is making that information more publically available through a new web page. It shows things like the department’s budget, policies and statistics about calls for service.

“They can just go to our website, click a button and be able to view it,” Collins.

They’re also updating how officers report the use of force on the job, so they’re able to show the public the statistics.

“Starting from today’s date we can easily keep track of all the use of force,” Collins said.

All of this is meant to make the community more informed and strengthen their relationship with the department.

The La Crosse Police Department recently released a similar web page.

The Sheriff’s Department said it is also considering how it could be more transparent or improve. It will continue to work with groups like the county’s Criminal Justice Management Council,  which has stakeholders from various backgrounds to improve the system.