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While those employed in law enforcement are often exposed to trauma, there is no indication from available data that police officers have the highest rates of suicide. (Shutterstock) While those employed in law enforcement are often exposed to trauma, there is no indication from available data that police officers have the highest rates of suicide. (Shutterstock)

While those employed in law enforcement are often exposed to trauma, there is no indication from available data that police officers have the highest rates of suicide. (Shutterstock)

By Alan Hovorka August 12, 2022

Democrat Evers didn’t give Wisconsin counties 'the green light' to defund police

If Your Time is short

  • The RGA cited a GOP bill, vetoed by Evers, that would have reduced state aid to communities that cut spending on police.

  • But the Evers veto simply keeps the status quo – it was not a proactive step to encourage reductions.

  • Evers has explicitly said he opposes defunding police departments and allocated $100 million in federal pandemic relief to enhance law enforcement.

Heading into November, look for Republicans to hammer Democratic Gov. Tony Evers on crime and police funding.

Indeed, they already have been.

As Republicans were still picking Tim Michels as their nominee to face Evers, the Republican Governors Association sent an email blast to Wisconsin reporters on July 29, 2022 that contained this quote from spokeswoman Maddie Anderson:

"Wisconsin families are desperate for a leader whose top priority is keeping their communities safe. Instead, Governor Tony Evers gave counties the green light to defund Wisconsin's police departments. Elections have consequences, and Evers will come to find that out very soon."

The email came after a violent week in Milwaukee left a 6-year-old girl dead.

The defund the police angle is an echo of attacks on Democrats that began after the May 2020 murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer sparked protests across the nation. Many protests called for police budgets to be dramatically cut or, in some cases, the departments eliminated and replaced.

We rated False a previous claim by Republican gubernatorial candidate Rebecca Kleefisch that Evers is "a big proponent of this defund the police movement." In fact, Evers has said slashing police budgets "goes too far" and directed $100 million in COVID relief money toward enhancing law enforcement.

So, let’s look at the RGA claim that Evers gave cities and counties "the green light" to defund police departments. 

A veto and a message

When asked for backup, Anderson pointed to an Aug. 6, 2021, veto by Evers of a bill that would have cut state aid to cities and counties that reduced any part of their police budgets and given that money instead to cities that didn’t cut police spending. 

He vetoed it on the same day he signed a separate Republican bill to set use of force standards for police departments.

In an Aug. 1, 2022 email, Anderson argued: "He vetoed a bill that would have dissuaded counties from defunding police departments. Sent a clear message to counties that there is no penalty for defunding or reallocating resources from police departments. Hence the green light."

Let’s dig deeper. 

Featured Fact-check

First, we should note that the veto means there is something behind the claim, even if it’s now being misrepresented. Despite how Anderson framed it, the Evers veto leaves the status quo in place. In that respect, nothing changes. And, as we know, state aid and local governments, particularly as it relates to police spending, can get sticky.

In his veto message, Evers said he killed the bill because it placed "onerous restrictions" on the ability of local governments to set their budgets.

The bill would have reduced shared revenue payments to municipalities that decreased spending on police, fire and emergency services or reduced the number of people employed in those areas. The legislation specifically targeted municipalities employing at least 30 people in those areas and only applied to portions of the emergency service budget for hiring, training and retaining employees. 

The nonpartisan Wisconsin Policy Forum issued reports in June 2020 and August 2021 on police funding trends in Wisconsin. The reports found spending on policing n Wisconsin peaked in 2013 and was trending downward well before the rise of the "defund the police" approach captured national attention. 

Even as funding has fallen, spending on police remains the largest piece of municipal spending in the state. The forum concluded those declines in funding are more related to counties and municipalities struggling under state-imposed limits on how much they can collect in the property tax levy and flat state aid. Local governments have largely shielded police and fire services from budget cuts in the past decade, the report found.

Anderson’s argument that the veto gives a green light on cutting budgets runs counter to the governor’s own statements and actions.

Just days after the Floyd case, Evers specifically opposed cutting spending on law enforcement in a meeting with Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporters and editors. 

In a June 4, 2020 article, Evers was quoted as saying: "We're always going to need police service" and that "to completely defund police departments ... that isn't going to work.’"

Later, as noted, Evers provided more than $100 million to law enforcement through federal relief funds.

Our ruling

The Republican Governors Association claimed Evers gave Wisconsin counties "the green light" to defund the police. 

A spokesperson for the association pointed to a veto of a Republican bill that would penalize counties and municipalities that reduce police budgets regardless of context. So, it’s not like there is nothing there. But that veto simply kept the status quo – it was not a proactive step by Evers to force or encourage cities and counties to cut law enforcement.

What’s more, Evers has flatly stated he does not support defunding the police, and directed $100 million in pandemic aid to law enforcement.

So, the statement "contains an element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression." 

That’s what we call Mostly False. 


Our Sources

Maddie Anderson, Republican Governor Association regional spokesperson, email, Aug. 1, 2022

PolitiFact Wisconsin, Democrat Evers is not ‘a big proponent' of defunding police, as GOP challenger Kleefisch claims, May 20, 2022

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Tony Evers spending $50 million in federal funds to boost police forces, clear court backlogs, March 15, 2022

Wisconsin Policy Forum, Some cuts to police predate calls for defunding, August 2021

Wisconsin Policy Forum, Dollar for Dollar, December 2020

Wisconsin Policy Forum, A High-Level Look at Police Funding Trends in Wisconsin, June 2020

The Associated Press, Evers OKs use-of-force bill, vetoes plan to defund cities, Aug. 6, 2021

Tony Evers, veto memo, Aug. 6, 2021

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Protesters have demanded police departments be 'defunded.' Tony Evers says that goes too far, June 4, 2020


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More by Alan Hovorka

Democrat Evers didn’t give Wisconsin counties 'the green light' to defund police

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