After a group of off-duty Milwaukee cops kicked the crap out of Frank Jude, Jr. in 2004, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinal stumbled on the fact that one of the cops involved – the one the federal judge hearing the cases designated the worst of the lot – had priors before joining the MPD. When the paper asked the department for a list of other officers on the force who had criminal records, they were given the brush-off. Those records didn’t exist and they weren’t about to start collecting them. So the men and women patrolling the streets of Milwaukee, enforcing laws and employing the use of deadly force when necessary, are held to a lower standard than your average school teacher, bank teller or day care worker…

Despite promises to look into the situation, nothing’s been done.

Michael G. Tobin, who became executive director of the commission in late 2007, said he wanted to research the question shortly after he started the job, but the commission’s database wasn’t set up to answer it.

It still isn’t.

“Anecdotally, it’s a very small number,” Tobin said earlier this year.

Milwaukee residents no doubt feel better knowing that. Anecdotally.

The local DA maintains a lit of cops convicted of crimes or with pending charges against them. They care because they don’t want to put a cop on the stand in a trial, only to have his testimony impeached by the defense because he’d been convicted of, say, shoplifting or passing bad checks. That could prove embarrassing. Not to mention detrimental to the prosecution.

Can it really be possible that the MPD doesn’t run background checks on prospective patrolmen? Or do they run the checks and, as long as the priors aren’t too serious – you know, murder or something like that – they let it slide? Is it so difficult to get good recruits in Wisconsin that basic standards like this need to be relaxed? If they can do it in the Land of Lincoln, why not in the land of cheddar?

That’s one reason departments in many other states, including Illinois, preclude people convicted of certain misdemeanors – generally involving deception, drugs and abusive behavior – from carrying a badge and a gun.

“It’s just overwhelming how people in communities really do believe law enforcement officers have to be held to this standard,” said Kevin McClain, executive director of the Illinois Law Enforcement Training and Standards Board. “People feel that police officers should be models in society.”

Not only are people convicted of those types of crimes barred from being hired as Illinois officers – working officers who are convicted of those crimes are automatically decertified under state law, which means they immediately lose their jobs and can’t be rehired, McClain said. Any officer who fails to notify the state of a conviction – either during the application process or after hiring – can be charged with a felony.

It’s easy to assume that one of the basic prerequisites for law enforcement work is a clean record. Or should be. That evidently isn’t an assumption people in Milwaukee (actually, it’s pronounced “mill-e-wah-que” which is Algonquin for “the good land.”) can make.

14 Responses to Milwaukee Hires Cops with Criminal Records. And They’re Just Fine with That.

  1. This follows nicely from our discussion the other day about the reverence paid to police officers, particularly demonstrated when an officer is killed(whether on- or off-duty), and how that reverence needs to coincide with an overall higher moral standard and stricter code of conduct, but rarely does. Usually the double-standard for cops is administered with a wink and a nudge; but to have a policy so blatantly ill-conceived, and to have such an laissez-faire attitude about it, is particularly disturbing.

  2. Back in the stone age when I was young I worked for the San Francisco Civil Service Commision. One of my jobs was recruiting for the SFPD. The PD Personnel Dept staff (LTs and SGts) made it clear that they actually preferred recruits that had a minor record (felonies were verboten) because it showed “they could take care of themselves”. I’m not defending the logic, just reporting it.

  3. There has to be more to this story. I would want to know if this has anything to do with a lack of minority police officers, and outreach efforts to hire them by overlooking past criminal records?

  4. Hardly anything new.If you live in a large jurisdiction that has many municipalities it’s highly likely that the cops working them have criminal records, often felonies.Cops generally, and often, break the law, so having a muni to send the “problem children” to is how the game is played. Munis don’t care about the rape accusations swept under the rug, they care that their ‘officers’ generate revenue by writing you a $75 ticket for 42 in a 35…Puhleese. Who is so naive as to think cops are the ‘good guys’? If they aren’t doing evil themselves, they are either tools of The State, or covering for some other dirty cop which makes them just as dirty.

  5. Not uncommon.
    One of the jurisdictions I lived in hired former and current hoodlums as LEOs. The theory behind this was that they would have a criminal mind and think and relate to the crooks better. Of course this was the same jurisdiction that would never issue common slobs a CCW. Yeah, I got tired of the BS and moved out.

    • Hell, here in STL, we’ve had multiple incidents of ‘officers’ for small munis not even being POST-certified.

  6. Very Common. My County PD we consider folks with criminal convictions, provided that they were a long time ago and haven’t happened again. The Atlanta Journal reported this same issue a couple years ago: http://www.ajc.com/metro/content/metro/atlanta/stories/2008/10/12/atlanta_police_academy.html?cxntlid=homepage_tab_newstab

    Here is the thing that infuriates me. These people would be ineligible for a carry license BUT because they are a government employee they are exempt from all of the carry laws.

    • “As long as you can ‘explain’ it at your boards” was the phrase one of my cop buddies always uttered when she was trying to (unsucessfully) get me into the game…

    • @MikeSilver:

      Bring it up at the next city council meetings — how is it that someone who cannot get a gun permit can qualify to be a cop?

  7. Locally, an officer was released from a Chicago area force for embezzling funds. The local department hired him as a prison guard. Later he was arrested for forcing the female inmates to perform sexual acts with him. No-one outside the police department was surprised. Several of the women have filed lawsuits against the department for hiring him in the first place.

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