Wausau task force reflects on post-inquiry focus groups on police reforms

Damakant Jayshi

The Wausau Police Task Force will continue to discuss the results of the community survey before finalizing the nature and number of focus groups in the future.

The WPTF made the decision – at the suggestion of task force member William Harris – after reviewing the initial survey results presented by April Bleske-Rechek, PhD, on behalf of the Wisconsin Institute for Public Policy and Service.

“We want to be deliberate and inclusive, but also timely,” said John Robinson, WPTF President, explaining the reason for taking more time after getting a detailed analysis of the survey results.

At the end of June, the WPTF released the poll for comment. Of the 5,000 paper surveys – in English – sent to the residents of Wausau, WIPPS received 715 responses. The online version – in English, Spanish and Hmong – saw a return of 516 respondents.

The survey, which focused solely on the Wausau Police Department, had five broad themes that primarily concerned residents’ perceptions of police action and conduct, as well as sources of information on police activities. police.

Wausau Pilot & Review emerged as two of the top news sources, while radio and news bulletins landed at the bottom of the list.

Bleske-Rechek, professor of psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, called the total return – 1,231 – an excellent response rate. She explained to the task force members the early results which, while showing an overall positive impression of the Wausau Police Force, also showed a lack of trust on the part of some demographics and parts of the community.

Respondents aged 30 and under, across all demographic groups, were generally more suspicious of the police.

In response to this finding, Wausau Deputy Police Chief Matt Barnes asked if this mistrust was a “result of law enforcement behavior” or rather something of society.

“Is it helpful for a sociologist or someone else to look at this and see if there are any other explanations for this data, or is it something that we should be looking internally so that we be useful? Barnes asked.

Some demographics were under-represented in survey responses and members discussed ways to include them in focus groups so that their concerns and suggestions could be incorporated into the overall recommendation.

“The Hmong population was definitely under-represented,” said Eric Giordano, executive director of WIPPS.

Bleske-Rechek suggested having five groups. One would include people under the age of 30 of all races and ethnicities with additional groups representing Hmong residents, people with mental health issues, and people who had already been arrested or cited in two or more checks by the police.

The WPB decided to continue the discussion before finalizing the focus groups.

As a first step in the process, the WPTF has already organized a series of public listening sessions to gather public feedback on policing in Wausau. Once the survey results have been fully analyzed, the working group will organize a series of focus groups to explore potential solutions to consider. As a final step, the Wausau Police Task Force plans to hold a public hearing and make final recommendations on police reform to the mayor and city council.

Damakant Jayshi is a journalist for Wausau Pilot & Review. He is also a member of the body of Report for America, an initiative of the GroundTruth Project that places journalists in local newsrooms. Contact him at [email protected]

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