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Bills fix ‘glaring holes’ in Wisconsin’s bail system

By M.D. Kittle

MADISON — The fact that six people are dead and scores more injured in Waukesha’s annual Christmas Parade is horrifying enough. But it’s so much worse knowing that it could have been prevented.

On Wednesday, Sen. Julian Bradley (R–Franklin), and Rep. Chuck Wichgers (R–Muskego) unveiled bills that would stop liberal prosecutors like Milwaukee County John Chisholm and restorative justice judges from setting low or no bail for repeat offenders.

“There are some glaring holes in our bail system and we’re going to try to fill those,” Bradley told Empower Wisconsin in an interview. “One of the best ways to support law enforcement is to keep people from committing crimes over and over again and from victims becoming victims over and over again.”

The package includes three bills. The first, co-authored by Sen. Steve Nass (R-Whitewater) fixes “lax bond policies” by requiring a minimum bond of at least $10,000 for defendants who have previously committed a felony or violent misdemeanor.

Darrell Brooks Jr., the Milwaukee man accused of mowing down nearly 70 people when he drove his SUV into the Christmas parade, had just days before been released on $1,000 bail. Brooks, a career violent criminal with a long rap sheet, was charged with assaulting and then driving over the mother of his child three weeks before the parade. Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm, a Democrat who predicted his liberal criminal justice policies would end up killing innocent people, admitted the bail his office recommended was “inappropriately low.”

Brooks previously had been held on $7,500 bail after being charged in another violent crime, but he was released in February 2021 on a fraction of the amount because the Milwaukee County Court System failed to keep his trial date.

The second bill, also co-authored by Nass, bans a court from setting an unsecured bond or releasing without bail someone previously convicted of bail jumping. Defendants can only be released if they execute a secured bond or deposit cash in an amount of at least $5,000. Brooks, like so many others in the liberal revolving door criminal justice system, has multiple bail-jumping charges on his record.

And the third bill in the package, co-authored by Sen. Eric Wimberger (R–Green Bay) and Nass, requires the state Department of Justice to publish a report documenting every crime charged, the conditions of release, who the presiding judge was, and the name of the prosecuting attorney assigned to the case.

Chisholm, after conducting his own internal investigation, blamed the low bail recommendation on a young assistant district attorney who he said did not have access to the risk assessment information on Brooks. The prosecutor, apparently without even looking at basic online court information, simply doubled the $500 previous bail amount after Brooks was charged in the recklessly endangering safety case.

“Ultimately, If this package were in place, based on what we now know, Darrell Brooks never would have been out on the street,” Bradley said.

The bail reform package was unveiled a day after Republicans announced bills that would require Evers to spend about $25 million of the billions of dollars in federal pandemic aid he controls to bolster police departments. The funds would go to bonuses for new police officers and to pay for a law enforcement recruitment campaign, among other initiatives.

Democrat lawmakers, many who have supported low bail/no bail proposals and the Black Lives Matter defund the police movement, called the Republicans’ package “nothing more than an election year stunt.”

The Wisconsin Chiefs of Police Association (WCPA) described the law enforcement package as “common sense bills.”

“Action is needed now,” said Patrick Mitchell, president of the Wisconsin Chiefs of Police Association. “Wisconsin currently has the lowest number of law enforcement officers in more than a decade. That puts our communities, our families and our businesses at risk.”

Nationally, law enforcement retirements are up 45 percent and resignations were up 18 percent last year. Police departments in every geographical region in Wisconsin report that they have been unable to fill vacancies over the past few years. Qualified applications for these crucial positions have also diminished, Mitchell said.

Retirements and resignations are up in large part due to low morale, according to law enforcement officials. That has much to do with a lack of support from politicians and a general press that has spent the better part of the past two years vilifying police officers.

“We hope each of these bills receive bipartisan support, and that they move quickly through the legislative process so the Governor can sign them into law this spring,” Mitchell said.

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