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.