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La Crosse DA Gruenke discusses potential police oversight board, ahead of county’s next step Thursday in its creation

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FILE - La Crosse native Katrina Sletten speaks to around 700 protesters at La Crosse's City Hall on June 5, 2020, demanding change after the Minneapolis Police killing of George Floyd. (PHOTO: Rick Solem)

Another step Thursday in what has many names and  but could be thought of, potentially, as a police oversight board being discussed in La Crosse County.

County Board chair Monica Kruse will present to the Judiciary and Law Committee at 3 p.m., a list of 18 people for a “Committee on Policing Membership.”

Among the names listed were at least three members of law enforcement in the county, including La Crosse Police Chief Shawn Kudron, Onalaska Chief Charles Ashbeck and La Crosse County Sheriff Jeff Wolf. (Full list at bottom of story)

While the process is still in an infantile stage, one of the big questions with putting together such a board is whether it should include law enforcement at all.

That’s because one final version of the process would that this would be a “Citizens Police Oversight Board,” that would be completely independent or separated from law enforcement. But, again, the county has not determined any of that yet.

La Crosse County District Attorney Tim Gruenke spent some time Tuesday on WIZM discussing its creation, including having law enforcement included on this committee. 

“I think the thinking was, to not have law enforcement on at this stage, would just result in a lot of confusion and misunderstandings, and they should be part of the planning if they’re going to be asked later to be subject to it,” Gruenke told the La Crosse Talk PM audience. “Just to make sure people have probably considered their concerns or maybe a little bit about how their system works to see what changes can be made or should be made.”

A study committee was approved on a 24-3 vote by the La Crosse County Board in early November. This list of 18 people appears to be the product of their work.

A timeline to finishing this process, however, does not appear to be in the near future. 

“I don’t have a timeline but I would guess a long time to have a lot of moving parts together to iron out all the details of something like this,” Gruenke said. “I would think months if not close to a year but that’s just a guess on my part.”

It’s already been months and multiple committees just to get to this list. And, to get here, people on these committees have looked at how other communities have done police oversight. The City of Madison did something similar over a very long period of time, but Gruenke noted it was more expansive.

“It may have been even more than a year,” Gruenke said. “They had quite a process that involved more than just this (La Crosse’s plan). Their process involves other changes as well. So they were actually doing it for a couple of years but this board is one of the things that came out of their process.”

Whatever the next steps are for this list of 18 people, Gruenke has faith in the process.

“I’m not concerned, at this point, without knowing what they’re going to propose,” he said. “I would just be patient and wait to see what they come up with and see how it looks. 

“It’s not something that they’ve got the authority to do anything on their own. … At some point, whatever they come up with — assuming they come up with some plan — would go in front of the County Board, the elected officials, where they could say, ‘This is no good,’ or ,’This is too tilted one way or the other,’ or everybody that was there agreed on it and it sounds great.”

Potential Committee on Policing Membership:

  • Laura Abellera
  • Chuck Ashbeck
  • Keith Belzer
  • Luis Delgado
  • Amanda Goodenough
  • Henry Greengrass
  • Thom Huh
  • Mark Huesmann
  • Tara Johnson
  • Lisa Kruse
  • Shawn Kudron
  • Jonathan Locust
  • Vincent Loera
  • Hailey Polk
  • Andrew Rasmussen
  • Heidi Svee
  • Joe Veenstra
  • Jeff Wolf

Host of WIZM's La Crosse Talk PM | University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point graduate | Hometown: Greenville, Wis | Avid noonball basketball player and sand volleyballer in La Crosse

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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Nick

    February 10, 2022 at 10:48 am

    This may be considered sour grapes but here goes. I wrote to Monica and advised that I served on a city council in northern Kentucky. I was instrumental in getting cameras in patrol cars in the 90’s.
    Strict guidelines were put in place. I would ride with the officers at times to get a flavor of what they did.
    I have been here for three years now so am not known and that may be a hindrance or an asset. What qualifications do these people possess

  2. Kay Hatlestad

    February 13, 2022 at 12:05 am

    I’ve only been a La Crosse resident for 3 years, but I feel strongly that police should not have voting representation on this committee. Police should certainly have a strong voice in the committee, but not a vote.

    I am also extremely concerned about the impact on any of the committee members that might anger some police, based on the treatment of Joella Striebel. Are there mechanisms in place to protect members of this committee? I know that I considered applying for this committee, due to my prior experience as a member of the Maplewood, MN, Use of Force Workgroup. I decided not to apply, based on Joella’s treatment. If I, as a white professional, don’t feel safe, how can we expect members of BIPOC and other marginalized communities to volunteer?

    This seems like whitewash to me.

    Note: if you’re curious about Maplewood’s work, check out https://maplewoodmn.gov/1658/Initiatives

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