Officer-involved death law breaks new ground

Law requires 2 from outside agencies be involved in investigations
Officer-involved death law breaks new ground

It is a landmark law, the first of its kind in this country. When Gov. Scott Walker signed AB 409 it created a law that will change the way police-involved deaths are investigated in Wisconsin.

While many law enforcement agencies deferred death investigations involving their officers to outside jurisdictions, some did not.

This new law requires two individuals from outside the agency be involved in the investigation, and one of those two must lead the investigation.

“I feel with this bill we really get some justice. This was really the right thing to do,” said Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison, the co-sponsor of the bill.

Taylor began looking into the law following a police involved shooting death in Madison. On Nov. 9, 2012, Paul Heenan was shot and killed by a Madison police officer. Heenan had inadvertently entered the wrong home and when police responded to a call reporting an intruder, they found him outside the home. The officer said Heenan came at him.

The officer was later cleared of wrongdoing following a Madison Police Department internal investigation.

“My community wanted action,” Taylor said.

Taylor found an ally in Rep. Garey Bies, R-Sister Bay. Bies is a former law enforcement officer. The two worked to steer the bill through the legislature.

To do so they worked closely with law enforcement agencies. University of Wisconsin-Madison Chief of Police Susan Riseling chaired a committee of the Dane County Chiefs of Police Association and helped craft the bill.

“I think it is appropriate for law enforcement to be more transparent with how we conduct business, and I’ve always welcomed this kind of review,” Riseling said.

She believes this new law will benefit the public and police officers.

“No question. I see this as a positive for law enforcement. Anytime that the community can have their trust built or reinforced in us is a positive and I think this is a positive move. I think it is a best practice in our profession. I think it is time that we did this,” Riseling said.

The family of Heenan hopes this new law will ensure justice in future police-involved deaths.

“People could see that this needed to be done. There’s some injustice out there and we’re hoping that with greater scrutiny of the police that there will be less injustice in the future,” said John Heenan, Paul’s father.