Legislatively Speaking

By Senator Lena C. Taylor

A Chance to Get It Right on the Front End

Lena C. Taylor

It’s estimated that more than 90% of law enforcement agencies in the U.S. require psychological screening of their applicants, either before or after receiving a conditional offer of employment. The Wisconsin State Assembly Committee on Criminal Justice and Public Safety, recently heard a number of policing reform bills that included AB 331. The bill requires prospective law enforcement officers to complete a psychological examination prior to employment as a law enforcement officer.

While these exams are viewed as tools to identify or flag any personality traits or mood disorders, possible implicit or explicit bias, or significant pathologies that might be incompatible with the stress of being a police officer, these exams also can be used “to proactively identify and hire the positive—the candidates who possess the values, character traits and capabilities that agencies are looking for in their employees” according to information in the Hiring for the 21st Century Law Enforcement Officer.

We also have to be honest about the cost of police misconduct. Two days ago, a CNBC op-ed discussed how settlements and lawsuits regarding police misconduct cases are handled. It said that typically, taxpayers pay for police misconduct judgments and settlements in one of three ways.

If their municipality uses liability insurance (typical of smaller municipalities), they pay for them indirectly in the form of premiums. If their municipality uses money from a general or dedicated fund (typical of larger municipalities), then they pay for them directly. The same goes if their municipality issues a bond.

Bonds are particularly common for large judgments or settlements that exceed insurer liabilities or the capacity of general or dedicated funds and often result in taxpayers paying nearly double because the city or county must pay fees to financial institutions and interest to investors.

One recent study found that from 2008-2017, taxpayers in Chicago, IL, Cleveland, OH; Lake County, IN; Los Angeles, CA; and Milwaukee, WI, paid an estimated combined total of $1.73 billion in bonds and interest payments for police misconduct. The study was called “Police Brutality Bonds: How Wall Street Profits from Police Violence.” Two days ago, was the one-year anniversary of the George Floyd’s murder at the hands of a former Minneapolis police officer. Minneapolis taxpayers paid $27 million to settle Floyd’s case with his family.

In September of 2020, a billboard across from a New York Police Department (NYPD) station in Time Square read: “Hey NYPD. It’s us. NYC residents. The ones who pay your salary. We paid $300 million to settle your lawsuits. You paid nothing. We need to talk.”

Right here at home, WISN 12 News, in 2020, obtained the details of the payouts made by the city of Milwaukee in the last 10 years in settlements for officer misconduct.

Milwaukee spent over $40 million for officer misconduct that included wrongful arrests, strip searches, excessive force and wrongful deaths.

AB 331 is a start to remove Milwaukee, and other municipalities from these statistics. If we improve how we hire on the front end, we have a better chance to get it right.