Force Used in 3% of Arrests in Biggest Wisconsin Cities

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Badger Institute today urges legislators to mandate better statewide data

Police officers in Wisconsin’s largest cities use force a very small percentage of the time they make arrests, according to new research released today by the Badger Institute.

In a policy brief titled “Police Use of Force – How Common Is It?” the Badger Institute found that the frequency of any sort of use of force during arrests in Wisconsin’s two largest cities – Madison and Milwaukee – is roughly one in every 29 or 30 arrests or just over 3%.

Almost three-quarters of those use-of-force incidents involve “bodily force” that does not include a weapon.

The policy brief examined use of force in Madison and Milwaukee as well as Green Bay, which measures force differently and is difficult to compare.

“One of the first steps in bringing our communities together is understanding prevalence and whether the incidents that garner the most attention typify police-community interactions,” said Badger Institute President Mike Nichols. “How frequently is force used and why? Do some departments have a history of using it more frequently then others? What type is appropriate and when? When is the use of force inappropriate?  This brief starts to answer some of  those questions and recommends that lawmakers require compilation of data that will answer more of them.”

Gov. Tony Evers and State Sen. Van Wanggaard have each proposed legislation that would require police departments to report to the Wisconsin Department of Justice all use-of-force incidents in which a police officer shoots a civilian, discharges a firearm at a civilian or causes a civilian great bodily harm.  The Badger Institute recommends that policymakers require annual reporting on all use-of-force incidents and standardize how police departments define the term to ensure uniform reporting.

“Media coverage of use-of-force events likely contribute to the misperception that they are more commonplace than the statistics show,” said Patrick Hughes, author of the report and a corrections consultant for the Badger Institute. “That’s compounded by the fact that use-of-force data is challenging to compile.”

While use of force is rare, statistics in Milwaukee show that a small number of officers engage in it more frequently. In Milwaukee in 2018, for instance, over two-thirds of the 1,900 officers never used any type of force over the course of a year; over 86% never used force or only used force once. Fourteen percent of officers in Milwaukee were involved in more than one use-of-force incident, and 39 officers used force five or more times.

“This brief does not attempt to determine when force is justified or not,” said Nichols. “And it does not assess the way cops are disciplined when force is found not to be justified. We will soon issue another brief on that. But it does illustrate that the vast majority of police interactions do not involve force. We hope that alleviates some of the recent distrust.”

You can read the entire brief here.

Contact: Badger Institute President Mike Nichols: or 262-389-8239