Damakant Jayshi

The Wausau Policing Task Force is one step closer to finalizing its report on policing reforms after adding a few more recommendations related to improving communications with the community.

A recommendation that the Wausau Police Department conduct a public service campaign about interaction with law enforcement officials to achieve a positive outcome will be included, the group decided on Tuesday. William Harris, a task force member who is also running for Marathon County Circuit Judge, suggested that the campaign should be broader than focusing on the younger population. That suggestion was adopted by the body.

Residents age 30 and below, according to survey results of last year, were generally more distrustful of police, which led to some discussion last month on whether the campaign should focus solely on that group. [For detailed results of the survey, click here and go to page 3.] Although minorities and people of color expressed fear and distrust of police, mirroring a national trend, overall local police received positive reviews from about 85% of the community.

Likewise, the Task Force will also recommend that the police department employ communications outreach to reach out to all segments of the community by employing multiple channels of media – press, TV, radio, and social media. During its meeting in December, the task Force had deferred a decision on whether to limit communications to social media alone. On Tuesday, Task Force member Michael Klemp-North suggested that the police department use other channels as well since not all members of the community use social media. The WPD currently posts information on its social media channels like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

These recommendations have come in addition to several the Task Force has already made. Last month, the body recommended that the Wausau City Council amend its health plan to enhance mental health training for police officers and extend mental health benefits to the entire Wausau Police Department. [For a list of recommendations that have been already passed, click here, and go to page 7.]

The Task Force also adopted two other motions by Harris – that the City Council address mental health issues and expand community engagement to include incoming refugees in addition to members of the Hmong and LGBTQ community as part of its community engagement recommendations. Wausau is one of the host cities for Afghan parolees and refugees and the first of the families arrived last month.

Klemp-North’s suggestion that the City Council partner with organizations on social justice will also make part of the report that the WPTF will present to the elected body.

Additionally, Michael Loy suggested increasing the language competency of police and encouraging them to embrace public feedback for better policing. The members agreed and entrusted their chair, John Robinson, to craft language reflecting that.

In its nearly hour-long discussion, the group also spent time on mental health gaps and other related issues, effective methods of community engagement, enhancing cultural awareness, officer training and wellness, and data collection.

Wausau Mayor Katie Rosenberg  formed the task force on policing reform in June 2020 at the height of the Black Lives Matter movement and associated protests nationwide. The WPTF was formed in August 2020.

The Task Force had commissioned the Wisconsin Institute for Public Policy and Service (WIPPS) to aid in getting feedback. WIPPS helped conduct listening sessions, issued a survey and coordinated focus group discussion last year. 

The Task Force will also discuss the rollout of the reform report after discussing recommendations with Mayor Rosenberg and Wausau Police Chief Benjamin Bliven.

Damakant Jayshi is a reporter for Wausau Pilot & Review. He is also a corps member with Report for America, an initiative of GroundTruth Project that places journalists into local newsrooms. Reach him at damakant@wausaupilotandreview.com.