LA CROSSE, Wis. (WXOW) - A panel of community leaders discussed specific changes they'd like to see for people of color to feel more protected by law enforcement.
One change discussed at the Wednesday night forum was how La Crosse Police officers will no longer immediately show up to a scene if someone doesn't have an adequate reason for calling to say "someone looks suspicious".
UW-La Crosse Police Chief Allen Hill explained how he experienced racism first-hand when someone from his apartment complex called the police simply because he was walking to his apartment.
"Just because you've never seen them around your area before that's not against the law, so I think that's another area we need to take a really good look at and improve on as well," Chief Hill said. "As police departments, we have to stop allowing people to weaponize us to respond to things. As a police officer I felt criminalized by my own citizen. I have no idea who called me in as a suspicious person but regardless police came and made contact with me."
Other panelists agreed that the police need better training.
"The Black community specifically is not feeling like officers have their best interest in mind, so doing something like this and putting together some sort of training that is detailed enough that allows officers to convey whatever subject they come into contact with that their lives are not in danger," La Crosse Human Rights Commission Chairman Chauncy Turner said. "I think changing the attitude of the officers in this way would really send a loud message from the department to the community and say, 'Hey we're on board with making these changes and we're on board with actually saying what we want to see happen in this community and doing it."'
La Crosse Police Chief Shawn Kudron said they have taken specific steps to improve their response to "suspicious" phone calls.
"We have a biased based profiling policy and we added a lot of language on biased-by-proxy and now when we receive calls for suspicious complaints that have no nexus to criminality or no nexus to any violations," Chief Kudron said. "Our officers are now reaching out to those complainants and talking through what it is they're seeing."