People Killed by Police in WI Lower Than National Rate, But Walworth County is an Outlier (Revised)

By Lynn Binnie
Whitewater Banner volunteer staff

Revision. 8/26 @ 1:10 p.m. The organization that was the primary source for this article was previously referred to as The Badger Report. That has been corrected to The Badger Project. The Banner regrets this error.

According to an analysis by The Badger Project, which uses the tagline “Nonpartisan, nonprofit, investigative journalism in Wisconsin,” since 2013, law enforcement officers in Wisconsin have killed at least 149 people. That amounts to about 2.7 annual deaths per one million residents, compared with a national average of approximately 3.3 deaths per one million people during the same timeframe. Marinette and Walworth Counties, and the cities of Green Bay, Eau Claire, and Waukesha have higher rates.

The analysis states that “Among people killed by police in Wisconsin since 2013, about 27% were Black, although Black residents make up just 6.2% of Wisconsin’s population, according to data Mapping Police Violence prepared for The Badger Project. All but four of the 149 killed were men.

Most have been deemed justified by an outside agency or a district attorney and have not resulted in criminal charges against the officer, according to the cases gathered by Mapping Police Violence. Law enforcement said the victims were armed in more than 75% of the deaths. Nearly all were killed after being shot by police; a few died by other means.”

A report on the analysis by The Badger Project was published on August 16. The complete article may be found here.

The section of the report on the Walworth County Sheriff’s Office reads as follows:
“Similarly, deputies from the Walworth County Sheriff’s Department have shot and killed five people in the last decade.

One was incarcerated at the county jail. Deputy Richard Lagle shot 18-year-old Alfredo Emilio Villarreal, saying the man had attacked him and was trying to escape while at the hospital. In another case, Kris Kristl aimed a BB gun at a county deputy and an Elkhorn Police officer.

In an email, Undersheriff Dave Gerber wrote, “Every case of a fatal shooting involving one of our deputies has been reviewed by a District Attorney, and in every case the District Attorney has determined that the enforcement was privileged and a reasonable exercise of self-defense and/or the defense of others pursuant to Wisconsin Statutes.”

Two of the victims were driving vehicles when they were shot and killed. Gerber said in both situations, the deputy was unable to get out of the way. Law enforcement are generally trained to approach vehicles from the rear or side to avoid standing in its path, experts say.

“These situations evolve rapidly and although not specifically stated in our Use of Force Policy, our deputies are allowed to defend themselves (or another person) when the deputy reasonably believes they are in imminent danger of death or great bodily harm,” Gerber wrote in an email. “A vehicle about to strike them is an imminent danger of death or great bodily harm.”

Some law enforcement agencies have restricted the practice of firing at a moving vehicle, because shooting the driver doesn’t always stop the vehicle and could make the situation worse. An officer can shoot passengers, for example, or hit the driver and turn the vehicle into a battering ram, endangering bystanders.

This practice is “increasingly viewed as an unnecessary risk,” Stroshine said.

“Many reformers have called for a complete ban on shooting at moving vehicles, and some departments have moved in this direction,” she said. “Restrictions are necessary; however, a ban may go too far. Officers should be required to retreat or avoid shooting at moving vehicles whenever possible.

But, Stroshine added, “there may be situations when an officer reasonably believes there is no other alternative or the vehicle has taken aim at the officer or others.” She cited the 2021 case of Waukesha Police who shot at Darrell Brooks as he barreled through the city’s Christmas parade, killing six and wounding more than 60 others with his SUV.

“It should be the last resort,” Stroshine said, “but officers should have that option if they deem it necessary.” [The quotes from The Badger Project end here.]

Walworth County’s population in 2020 was reported to be 103,391, so the Banner calculated that the county’s average annual rate of killings by the Sheriff’s Department for the period was approximately 4.8 per million, compared with 2.7 in the state and 3.3 in the nation. Since it started with 2013, the analysis barely missed an additional fatal shooting by the department in 2012 that would have made a total of six. Reported fatalities occurred in the following years: 2012, 2013 (2 fatalities), 2016, 2017, and 2018.

Additionally, however, in 2016 there was a fatal shooting by two town of Geneva police officers. If that incident was included in the analysis, the total police-related deaths that occurred within the county would have averaged approximately 5.8 per million, over double the reported state average.

The complete Badger Project article may be found here. The article includes the sections “New approaches eyed to lower deaths” and “Avoiding use of force.”

Editor’s note: The Banner appreciates having been given permission from The Badger Project to quote from their article. We also appreciate the use of the image on the homepage by Clker-Free-Vector-Images from Pixabay.,

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