City approves Wausau police task force to review policies
WAUSAU, Wis. (WSAW) - The Wausau city council unanimously chose to move forward with the creation of a policing task force for the Wausau Police Department, set to review police department policies, hiring, social needs, systemic racism, and other issues. Mayor Katie Rosenberg introduced the idea in June and in partnership with police chief Ben Bliven collected feedback from the public over the past few weeks, and appointed a mix of police and fire commission members and citizens to the task force.
“I’ve gotten a lot of really good feedback, and it’s a lot of people interested in participating however they can,” Rosenberg noted.
The body includes members with government, education and criminal justice backgrounds, including Marathon County board supervisor John Robinson and Wausau alderperson Pat Peckham. Police and fire commission members include commission chair (and CEO of North Central Health Care) Michael Loy, as well as Marathon County board supervisor and commission member William Harris.
“My hope for this task force is to actively listen to the community and professionals in the field and learn how to improve policing while respecting everyone’s social stories,” citizen member Michael Kemp-North told NewsChannel 7. “Ideally, we as a task force will address concerns and frustrations using a consensus building approach allowing people to feel safe as sharing their experiences and ideas.” (A complete list of task force members and their bios can be viewed here.)
“I was looking at people who were passionate about this topic who I could tell would go into this with an open mind,” Rosenberg explained of her appointments.
The task force comes after former president Barack Obama introduced a pledge calling on mayors across the nation to implement oversight bodies in their cities to review force policies in their police departments, in the wake of George Floyd’s death in May. Rosenberg, however, said she hadn’t joined the pledge and viewed her proposal as separate and locally-focused.
“I don’t want it to be political, I want it to be Wausau-focused,” she explained. “So I didn’t want any other baggage attached to that from any other organization.”
UW-Madison sociology professor emeritus Pamela Oliver, who has specialized in the intersection of race and criminal justice, says that while task forces can bring good recommendations, implementation of those recommendations is at times the struggle.
“The people on these task forces often do a serious job and may come back with recommendations that might produce real change,” she noted in an email, “But the issue is whether their recommendations get adopted.”
That’s why Rosenberg says she’s included a year’s timeframe to implement task force recommendations.
“I really want to make sure we’re considering the right things,” she noted.
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