Civilian police oversight board suspended as new talks with police begin | Local News

Olivia Herken La Crosse Tribune

The possibility of a civilian police oversight board being sent back to the drawing board, but where exactly it will go next is unclear as La Crosse County officials continue to debate its necessity and purpose.

Members of the Criminal Justice Management Board met Wednesday night to discuss next steps after the La Crosse County Board of Supervisors voted to return a resolution to create an ad hoc study committee on the matter in a bid to gain more support from the police – a move that only adds to the bureaucratic tangle that has grown since the process began more than a year ago.

The CJMC voted to create the task force after another subcommittee recommended moving forward, after studying the possibility of a civilian police oversight board for about a year. year. The study group would only continue to research the feasibility of an oversight board, and does not mean that one would be formed.

However, Democratic State Rep. Steve Doyle, also county supervisor, recommended postponing the next step in the process after hearing there was little buy-in from police officers, many of whom have expressed concern throughout. .

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But how exactly to close the gap was unclear at Wednesday’s meeting.

Members of the CJMC felt that there was some confusion as to the role that the task force would play. Commissioner and public defender Araysa Simpson argued the new body would do the work to gain police support and resolve any issues, calling this latest hiccup a bad sell.

“Isn’t that exactly what this committee is supposed to do?” It’s a committee to do the research, to do the deep diving, to talk to law enforcement,” Simpson said. “I guess I don’t know what the request is and why it’s being referred to us, because that’s what this committee is supposed to do.

Some officials have pushed for more discussion from the subcommittee that has studied the issue over the past year, but members balked, saying it undermined that work and argued that if the purpose of the break was about police concerns, discussions should be conducted from their side. .

Others were more cynical, calling the dismissal a blocking tactic, and one CJMC member argued that some supervisors would be against the supervisory board no matter what for fear of not being re-elected.

“If I’m being honest, and I’m speaking for myself, I didn’t really trust this would go anywhere,” said CJMC member Suthakaran Veerasamy, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. During Wednesday’s discussion, he used an analogy that people of color are like squirrels living in a cage built for elephants, saying the process exposed racial divisions in the community.

“When I hear words like that, that ‘we’re doing everything we can to be careful of people of color’ – to a squirrel like me, that just doesn’t make sense,” Veerasamy said. “Look at the screen (of the CJMC virtual meeting), look at the county council. How many squirrels are there? Elephants judge this situation based on their experience as an elephant in a cage built for them.

“When people of color try to communicate our experiences, what gets lost is white people’s ability to empathize,” Veerasamy said. “It means feeling what I feel. Like how I feel right now hearing all this bullshit. It’s a bunch of shit, yes? Because a group of people in power who have the status quo cannot see it for what it is; who have good in this community and do not want to change anything. Isn’t that what we’re talking about? Can we be honest? So maybe we can finally do something.

One member also said he was hesitant to rehash the issue after experiencing “harmful communication” while working on the subcommittee.

Those worried about moving forward have wondered if a police oversight board is even necessary, and some county officials have suggested that getting the buy-in might be easier said than done. .

La Crosse County Sheriff Jeff Wolf expressed concern at last week’s board meeting and said he would ask the CJMC to start with a clean slate. He has since said he has spoken with leaders from five different municipalities who are “strongly opposed” to the idea of ​​an oversight board, although he said all leaders are ready to find solutions to any issues. problems presented.

“I think we are looking at all of this sideways. Law enforcement for several years in our community has worked to resolve the issues,” Wolf told CJMC, citing an initiative launched by the La Crosse Police Department this week to include more support and health services. mental during calls, for example.

“(La Crosse Police Chief Shawn Kudron) didn’t need an oversight committee to tell him it was the right thing to do. He knew it was the right thing to do and he did it,” Wolf said.

“I think we should take a step back, have conversations, see what the issues are and see if we can fix them without creating another sub-committee or an ad hoc committee to create a committee to look at a committee – it just becomes be a waste of time,” Wolf said.

Doyle, who was not present at Wednesday’s meeting, is now tasked with going to the police and working as a liaison to determine what questions and concerns they have. He will then return to the CJMC next month to continue the discussion.

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