Damakant Jayshi

The Wausau Policing Task Force on Monday approved their report on policing policies and practices in Wausau, with expansion of crisis response teams and homeless outreach listed as top recommendations among the 15 suggestions.

Task Force members voted to accord homeless outreach a higher priority than originally placed on the list, moving it from No. 6 to No. 2. Homeless outreach will continue to be overseen by the Wausau Police Department but the services themselves will transition to a social worker. Outreach was being coordinated by a police officer until recently.

The members of the Task Force gave expansion of its Crisis Assessment Response Team (CART) the top priority to better address mental health crises, limiting responsibility of uniformed law enforcement officers dealing with those encounters.

Formed in 2018, the Crisis Assessment Response Team (CART) is a group comprising one officer each from the Marathon County Sheriff’s Department and the Wausau Police Department, two crisis professionals from North Central Health Care and a therapy dog. The project aims to reduce the number of involuntary detentions to mental health facilities and jails due to an underlying mental health disorder. 

An Employee Assistance Program (EAP) that focuses on providing free mental health support to police officers, a plan for North Central Health Care to pursue strategies for Community Based Case Management Services and holding dialogues with minority groups in the community rounded up the top five priorities.

The report will be modified if there is a lot of feedback from the community after it is officially made public. 

The Task Force launched in September 2020, a month after it was formed by the City Council. Mayor Katie Rosenberg took the initiative in the height of the Black Lives Matter movement.

The task force commissioned the Wisconsin Institute for Public Policy and Service (WIPPS) to conduct a community survey and organize focus groups last year. The analyses of the survey and the focus groups showed that overall the Wausau Police Department received positive reviews from about 85% of the community. 

However, those under 30 years of age, minorities, people of color, those with mental health issues, non-heterosexual, non-homeowners and those with prior negative interactions with the police expressed some fear and suspicion of Wausau police. But some of these demographics also acknowledged that policing was a difficult job.

Distrust of some police in their interactions with minorities and people of color is a nationwide trend. Whites express more support for the police, and Wausau is no exception.

Mayor Rosenberg thanked the WPTF members for their work on the body. Chair of the Task Force, John Robinson, thanked his colleagues for their “depth of understanding and conviction” and said the report was a result of team effort.

[Click here for a snapshot recommendations, and go to page 22. To read the survey and focus groups findings, click here. For community survey results, go to page 3; for focus groups, go to Page 41.]