It didn’t make national news when Michael Bell’s 21-Year-Old son was shot dead by police outside his home in Kenosha WI. It didn’t make the news when the Police investigating the death cleared themselves of any wrongdoing. And instead of burning down his neighborhood, or blocking traffic to prevent innocent people from getting to their homes or jobs, Michael Bell devoted himself to reforming the system; and in particular, the aspect of the system that allowed cops to investigate and clear themselves of wrongdoing.
From the beginning I allowed the investigation to proceed and didn’t know it was a sham until many of the facts were discovered. But before long I realized a cover-up was under way. I hadn’t understood at first how closely related the DA and the police were—during his election campaign for judge, the DA had been endorsed in writing by every police agency in the county. Now he was investigating them. It was a clear conflict of interest.
In 129 years since police and fire commissions were created in the state of Wisconsin, we could not find a single ruling by a police department, an inquest or a police commission that a shooting was unjustified.
In April of this year we passed a law that made Wisconsin the first state in the nation to mandate at legislative level that police-related deaths be reviewed by an outside agency. Ten days after it went into effect in May, local police shot a man sleeping on a park bench 15 times. It’s one of the first incidents to be investigated under the new law.
Notably, some law enforcement official opposed the reforms, saying that having one more level of oversight would be too much hassle. They were successful in watering down the bill from its first version, which had a lot more teeth. Nevertheless, the new rules do add some much needed accountability to police actions, and demonstrate that while those who throw tantrums may get all the attention, those who work hard quietly but persistently often achieve better results.