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Evers has said he is opposed to slashing police funding and that such a demand “goes too far.”
The governor has directed more than $100 million in federal COVID relief money to support law enforcement.
Evers has also said he backs helping Wisconsin communities tackle rising crime by getting more money for police through increased shared revenue.
U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has declared "defund the police is dead." President Joe Biden, in his State of the Union address said: "The answer is not to defund the police. It’s to fund the police."
And, while some party members support "defund the police efforts," Democrats have made no major effort to advance the idea, despite controlling Congress and the White House.
Nevertheless, Republicans continue to label Democratic leaders as backing the approach.
Enter Rebecca Kleefisch, the former Wisconsin lieutenant governor, who is one of four Republicans hoping to unseat Gov. Tony Evers in November 2022. The other Republicans in the race are Tim Michels, Kevin Nicholson and Tim Ramthun.
Meanwhile, a pro-Kleefisch political action committee, the Freedom Wisconsin PAC, has begun airing a radio ad claiming "liberals want to defund our police" and urging Wisconsinites to "stop Tony Evers, Joe Biden, and the liberals’ from doing so."
The phrase "defund the police" really entered the national consciousness in the wake of the May 25, 2020, murder of George Floyd, a Black man, by a Minneapolis police officer who knelt on his neck for nine minutes and 29 seconds. That killing, and a host of other cases, helped fuel a summer of protests across the nation, including in Kenosha, where 29-year-old Jacob Blake was shot seven times from behind by a police officer and left partially paralyzed on Aug. 23, 2020.
To be sure, there are various proposals to reduce, redirect or even drastically cut the money spent on law enforcement. In some scenarios, the idea is to spend some of the money instead on community programs or mental health services with the hope it will mean less crime and fewer incidents that need a police response.
So, Kleefisch and Freedom Wisconsin are using the broadest of strokes in their characterization.
But is Kleefisch right that Evers is "a big proponent of this defund the police movement?"
No. She badly misses her target.
We reached out to Kleefisch staff to ask them for backup for the claim, but after several days they did not respond. So let’s take a look at Evers and what he has said and done as it relates to the specific issue, and police funding generally.
First, in a June 2020 meeting with Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporters and editors, Evers backed having police departments overhaul how they use force, but specifically opposed slashing their funding.
Most law enforcement officers "are in the profession for the right reason," Evers said, "so the idea of completely disassembling police in the state or Milwaukee, I couldn't support."
Indeed, the headline on the June 4, 2020 story read: "Protesters have demanded police departments be 'defunded.' Tony Evers says that goes too far." That same story noted Evers said: "We're always going to need police service" and that "to completely defund police departments ... that isn't going to work.’"
So, all of that directly contradicts Kleefisch’s claim.
In August 2021, Evers signed a bill that established a uniform use-of-force policy for police across Wisconsin. That same day, he did veto a Republican-backed bill that would have cut state aid to local governments that reduce their police budgets – a GOP measure aimed at countering any "defund the police" measures.
Meanwhile, Evers has taken other steps – chiefly with federal pandemic relief money – to direct more money to police departments.
In March 2022, Evers approved using $56 million to help police forces and courthouses across the state boost law enforcement and crime prevention programs, as well as to clear a backlog of criminal cases.
That was in addition to an earlier $45 million for public safety efforts announced in October, bringing the total to more than $100 million.
Finally, at a March 18, 2022 WisPolitics.com luncheon, Evers declared "hell yes" when asked if he backed assisting Wisconsin communities tackle rising crime by getting them more funding for police through increasing shared revenue.
So, that, too, undermines Kleefisch’s claim.
Kleefisch claimed Evers is "a big proponent of this defund the police movement."
She and her team did not offer any evidence to back her claim, but there is plenty that contradicts it – notably direct statements made by Evers, who has also used federal pandemic aid to provide more than an additional $100 million to local law enforcement.
We rate the claim False.
Video, Rebecca Kleefisch at "Take Back Wisconsin Town Hall," 12:04 mark, April 30, 2022
Politico "‘Defund the police' is not the policy of the Democratic Party, Pelosi says," Feb. 13, 2022.
PBS News Hour, President Joe Biden "State of the Union address," March 1, 2022
Trinity Lutheran Church, "Take Back Wisconsin Town Hall," April 30, 2022
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Protesters have demanded police departments be 'defunded.' Tony Evers says that goes too far," June 4, 2020
Associated Press, "Timeline of events since George Floyd’s arrest and murder," Feb. 24, 2022.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel "Tony Evers spending $50 million in federal funds to boost police forces, clear court backlogs," March 15, 2022
WisPolitics.com "Evers backs boosting shared revenue to help fund police," March 18, 2022
Freedom Wisconsin PAC radio ad
Associated Press, "Evers OKs use-of-force bill, vetoes plan to defund cities," August 6, 2021
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