Republicans ask Evers to discuss federal stimulus funding

MADISON, Wis. — Republican legislative leaders on Monday called on Democratic Gov. Tony Evers to meet with them to discuss his plans for spending $3.2 billion in federal stimulus money coming to the state.

Evers last week said that discussing his plans for the spending money with Republicans was not a “top priority.” State law gives the governor the power to decide how to spend the money, and Evers has vetoed bills passed by the GOP-controlled Legislature that would give lawmakers control.

Evers has already announced up to $420 million of that money coming to the state would go toward a grant program targeting small businesses. He has promised to spend $600 million of the federal money on small businesses. He also has promised to spend $50 million on tourism, $200 million on infrastructure, including broadband access and $500 million on pandemic response measures, but has not released details.

Evers’ spokeswoman Britt Cudaback did not immediately comment on the Republican call for a meeting. The letter to Evers came from Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu and the co-chairs of the Legislature’s budget-writing committee, Sen. Howard Marklein and Rep. Mark Born.

“We invite you to meet with us to share your plans for the federal funding as soon as possible,” the Republicans wrote. “We are eager to add your plans to the state budget discussion so that we may dedicate precious state resources to the priorities of all Wisconsinites.”

Republicans said having the information is an “essential” part of the process of writing the budget.

The budget committee’s co-chairs have already announced they plan to start their work on Thursday by killing nearly 300 of Evers’ proposals before rewriting the spending plan over the next several weeks.

Evers last week downplayed Republican concerns about not having all the details of how the federal money will be spent, saying the budget committee will be able to complete its work.

Groups say gunshot detection systems unreliable, seek review

CHICAGO — The gunshot detection system that set in motion the recent fatal police shooting of a 13-year-old boy in Chicago routinely reports gunshots where there are none, sending officers into predominantly Black and Latino neighborhoods for “unnecessary and hostile” encounters, community groups argued in a court filing Monday.

The groups and the MacArthur Justice Center at Northwestern University’s law school asked a Cook County judge to scrutinize the ShotSpotter system to determine if it is “sufficiently trustworthy” to be allowed as evidence in a criminal case. The filing supports a request by defense attorneys for a man charged with murder in a case in which prosecutors are using ShotSpotter information as evidence.

The groups say a study of Chicago police data found that over a nearly 22-month period ending in mid-April, almost 90% of ShotSpotter alerts didn’t result in officers reporting evidence of shots fired or of any gun crime. The technology is only used in 12 police districts with the city’s largest proportion of Black and Latino residents, which the groups say “inflates statistics about supposed gunfire in these communities, creating a faulty, tech-based justification for ever more aggressive policing.”

“These deployments create an extremely dangerous situation for residents, prompting unnecessary and hostile police encounters, and creating the conditions for abusive police tactics that have plagued Chicago for decades,” the groups wrote.

ShotSpotter, a California based company that produces the gunshot detection system, has contracts with over 100 police departments nationwide. In Chicago, it sent an average of 71.4 alerts to officers each day during the period studied, according to the court filing. That included the March 29 alert that led to the fatal shooting of 13-year-old Adam Toledo by a Chicago officer.

The Chicago Police Department and other agencies have long praised the system, saying it puts officers on the scene of shootings far faster than if they wait for someone to call 911 to report gunfire. In Chicago, its use was expanded in response to increases in violent crime; police say crime rates — not residents’ race — determine where the technology is deployed.

On Monday, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said the technology, along with cameras and high-tech support centers staffed with police, “no question whatsoever is a lifesaver.”

“It’s the whole package and ShotSpotter plays an important role,” Lightfoot said.

Company officials say ShotSpotter improves police relationships with communities by enhancing investigations, more quickly transporting shooting victims to hospitals and responding to gunfire even if no one calls 911, which they say happens in most instances.

“Our technology fills the gap in Chicago and 110 other cities across the United States, helping deploy officers to crime in real-time, saving lives,” ShotSpotter said in a statement.

There was little question that shots were fired in the lead-up to Adam’s death in a dark alley in Little Village, a predominantly Latino neighborhood. Days after Police Superintendent David Brown told the media that the sound of gunfire was picked up by ShotSpotter, the materials released to the public included both video that appeared to show someone firing several shots in the neighborhood and a ShotSpotter audio recording of the sound of that gunfire.

Police were responding to those shots when Officer Eric Stillman chased Adam and shot him, a split second after the boy appeared to drop or toss a gun.

The court filing tells a different story: one of a system that prompts officers to race to scenes where they think they may encounter armed suspects and are thus more inclined to use lethal force. It says the ShotSpotter system — which the business says detects gunshots with “97% accuracy” — sent Chicago officers on an average of 61 “dead end” searches per day, possibly because it doesn’t accurately distinguish between shots and other loud noises, such as firecrackers and backfiring cars.

But the number of “dead end” searches does not address a reality in Chicago: People who fire guns often run away or, especially in a city where drive-by shootings are routine, gunmen are often blocks and even miles away by the time police arrive.

The system is especially dangerous in Chicago, according to the filing, because of the police department’s decades-long reputation for using unnecessary force.

“Residents who happen to be in the vicinity of a false alert will be regarded as presumptive threats, likely to be targeted by police for investigatory stops, foot pursuits, or worse,” the filing says.

Furthermore, dispatching officers to predominantly minority neighborhoods has not reduced crime in those areas.

“To the contrary, academic research has found that ShotSpotter and similar acoustic gunshot detection systems (“AGDS”) do not reduce serious violent crime and do not even increase the number of confirmed shootings that police identify,” according to the filing.

On Saturday, the department reported there were 187 homicides in the first four months of the year compared to 156 in the same period last year, and the number of shooting victims had jumped from 718 in the first four months of last year to 997 this year.

The groups involved in Monday’s court filing include the Brighton Park Neighborhood Council, which represents residents in a predominantly Latino neighborhood of Chicago, and the digital-rights nonprofit organization Lucy Parsons Labs.

Chicago man who drove into picnickers faces felony charges

CHICAGO — A Chicago man accused of striking and seriously injuring a woman with his pickup truck when he “intentionally” drove the vehicle at a group of people having a picnic has been charged with four counts of attempted murder, police said Monday.

In a news release, police said that 57-year-old Tim Nielsen was driving in the Logan Square neighborhood on the city’s North Side on Saturday afternoon when he drove the vehicle over a curb and at the group. They said a 42-year-old woman was struck by the vehicle and briefly trapped underneath, before she was rushed to an area hospital to be treated for serious injuries.

Nielsen was arrested a short time later and taken into custody, police said.

Wisconsin paper mill with long history goes up in flames

MENASHA, Wis. — A shuttered paper mill with a history dating back to 1882 has been decimated by fire in Menasha.

Firefighters remained on the scene of the fire at the Whiting Mill Monday morning. Neenah-Menasha Fire Rescue posted on Facebook that the massive fire that started Sunday was under control.

“Another great loss to Menasha history, the Whiting Mill is up in flames,” Menasha Mayor Don Merkes said in a Facebook post. “NM Fire is on scene protecting neighboring properties.”

The paper mill near the base of the Fox Cities Trestle Trail closed in 2016 after a 134-year history. The mill was known as the George A. Whiting Paper Co.

2 Wisconsin men charged with entering Capitol in Jan. 6 riot

MADISON, Wis. — Two Wisconsin men have been charged with entering the U.S. Capitol during the Jan. 6 attack.

Brandon Nelson and Abram Markofski are charged with four counts including entering and remaining in a restricted building and disorderly or disruptive conduct in a restricted building or grounds, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Wisconsin announced Monday.

An FBI affidavit says Nelson told agents that he and Markofski drove to Washington to see President Donald Trump’s political rally. Both he and Markofski admitted entering the Capitol, the affidavit said.

The men faced a first court appearance Monday.

Hundreds of cases have been brought against people who entered the Capitol as a mob stormed the building, seeking to block certification of Joe Biden’s presidential victory.

Company begins replacing underwater cables damaged by anchor

PEWAUKEE, Wis. — The company whose underwater power cables were damaged by an anchor strike in Michigan’s Straits of Mackinac three years ago said Monday it was beginning to install replacements.

A ship anchor in April 2018 struck three of American Transmission Co.’s six cables, which moved electricity between the Lower Peninsula and the Upper Peninsula. Two were severed and another was seriously damaged.

About 600 gallons of insulation fluid leaked into the straits, a channel that connects Lake Huron and Lake Michigan.

The portions of the cables closer to shore were underground, while those in deeper waters where the strike occurred lay on the lake floor.

The company reconfigured the undamaged cables into a single circuit so the flow of electricity could continue. But two operating circuits are needed for reliability, which the $105 million replacement project will provide, the company said.

Finishing removal of the old cables and laying the new ones will take about seven months.

“Together with our contractor partners, we’re committed to ensuring this project is completed safely and in an environmentally sensitive matter,” said Tom Finco, a vice president of the company based in Pewaukee, Wisconsin.

The two new cables, moving a combined 138,000 volts, will contain solid insulation with no fluids.

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