News from around Wisconsin at 5:28 a.m. CDT

Monday, April 21, 2014

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Wisconsin police brace for new probe protocols

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - A bill that would put outside agencies in charge of investigating officer-involved deaths could create conflict and confusion for Wisconsin agencies that have traditionally done it themselves, police observers say.

The measure’s supporters say the new requirements will counter claims that police protect their own from consequences of using deadly force. The bill passed the Legislature earlier this year and Gov. Scott Walker has signaled he will sign it into law soon.

Most of Wisconsin’s smaller law enforcement agencies already use outside investigators. But larger departments such as Green Bay, Madison and Milwaukee have investigated their own for years. Outsiders stepping into their affairs could be met with animosity.

“In general police departments don’t like outsiders getting involved in their business, whether it be reporters, researchers or the community in general,” said Steven Brandl, a University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee associate criminal justice professor.

Fifty-three people died while in the process of arrest in Wisconsin between 2003 and 2009, according to the latest figures from the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics. Wisconsin police departments reported officers killed 41 people between June 2008 and April 2013, according to the state Department of Justice. All the killings were ruled justifiable homicide.

Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison, and Rep. Garey Bies, R-Sister Bay, developed the legislation in response to three high-profile deaths in the last 10 years. They pointed to the deaths of Michael Bell, whom Kenosha police shot in the head as he fought with officers in 2004; robbery suspect Derek Williams, who died gasping for breath and begging for help in a Milwaukee squad car in 2011; and Paul Heenan, shot to death by a Madison officer during a scuffle in 2012.

None of those incidents resulted in criminal charges, raising questions from the dead men’s families about the integrity of the investigations.

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OWI fines hefty, but deterrence effect debated

OSHKOSH, Wis. (AP) - The fine for a first drunken-driving offense, including court costs and surcharges, can be as high as $1,000 in places like Winnebago County. But industry experts are questioning whether such heavy fines serve as effective deterrents.

The actual fine for a charge of operating while intoxicated ranges from $150 to $300, but court costs can add $600 to $700, Northwestern Media reported (http://oshko.sh/1mpA4IIhttp://oshko.sh/1mpA4II ). The amounts, which are higher for subsequent offenses, can catch defendants off guard.

“I give someone a $300 fine, and my bailiff shows them the paperwork and it shows them it’s $1,200,” Winnebago County Circuit Court Judge Scott Woldt said. “It’s a jaw-dropping experience for the defendant.”

While the total bill can be hefty, some observers think there are better ways to deter drunken driving. Nina Emerson, a former director of the Resource Center for Impaired Driving at the University of Wisconsin Law School, said a large fine is a “hollow threat.” Measures such as sobriety checkpoints do more to get a driver’s attention, she said.

“What really gets people’s attention is the increased fear of apprehension,” she said. “That’s how you change people’s behavior.”

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