The Lonely Journey of Mark Borkowski
New alderman’s crazed comments leave him only (and barely) the police union's support.
Mark Borkowski was a long time, likable county supervisor who ran for and won a special election to the Milwaukee Common Council. He was elected in August to serve out the term of the late Joe Dudzik in the 11th District.
Dudzik was the son of a former police union president, serving a southwest side district where many police and fire fighters lived, but he had fallen out with the cops union, which has almost no clout with the 15-member Common Council these days.
Borkowski, though, was supported by the police union in his recent election, giving the union a second ally on the council, in addition to Ald. Bob Donovan. But Borkowski wounded himself Tuesday with a bizarre speech that essentially defended rogue cops doing anal cavity searches of suspects.
Borkowski was responding to a proposed $5 million settlement to a suit by 74 plaintiffs, all African Americans, who charged they were subjected to anal cavity searches, which are illegal. Four Milwaukee police officers were convicted of crimes in connection with the searches and forced to resign. Had the city attempted to defend its police force with separate court cases for all 74 plaintiffs the costs would have been far higher.
Borkowski first praised the work of the city attorney, saying it did an “amazing job” in gaining this settlement, then erupted with a rather contradictory rant, citing this adjudication as proof of the “wimpification of the police department. All of a sudden now we cannot pursue cars that are stolen, we cannot check different cavities as far as drugs.”
Ald. Nik Kovac listened with amazement. “I was stunned,” he says. “I don’t know how to interpret that statement — about not being able to do a cavity search — other than as a defense of a felonious assault by a police officer.”
The statement put Borkowski at odds even with police union president Michael Crivello, who has never defended these searches.
Borkowski went on to say that “Many of the people who had this procedure done are known drug dealers.” The idea of describing an anal cavity search — what Kovac compared to “rape” — as having a “procedure done” is bizarre for beginners.
But the suggestion that “many” of the 74 plaintiffs were drug dealers also seems a stretch. Mark Stanmeyer, a spokesperson for the police department, says that “several of the plaintiffs do have criminal records,” but adds, “this fact does not mitigate the criminal conduct of the former members (of the department) who committed crimes.”
Milwaukee Police Chief Ed Flynn, who believes in aggressive, proactive policing, nonetheless changed his pursuit policy in 2010 after five innocent people were killed during police chases. Donovan has claimed the new policy allows criminals to “thumb their noses” at the police, while Flynn has emphasized the policy is intended to discourage the pursuit of minor offenders.
Mayor Tom Barrett notes that in 2015 there were 12 traffic fatalities involving stolen autos and none involved a police pursuit, meaning these thieves “were ill-equipped to drive at high rates of speed, follow the rules of the road or both. They’re criminal thrill seekers and MPD, together with police departments around the country, have implemented policies which recognize that engaging in high speed chases with criminal thrill seekers increases the chances of putting innocent citizens in harm’s way.”
Stanmeyer notes that auto thefts stayed flat for several years after the new policy, suggesting a less aggressive pursuit policy did not lead to more crimes. But there was a significant uptick in auto thefts in 2014 and perhaps in response, the police began increasing vehicle pursuits: they did 263 last year, at least five times more than in 2011 and 2012 (about 50 pursuits each year) and more than the year before Flynn became chief. So it would seem he has given police more room to pursue fleeing criminals. It might also suggest criticism from the police union and Donovan had some impact. The reality is that smart policing must always weigh the risks versus benefits for a policy like high-speed pursuits.
But even Donovan wouldn’t argue for more pursuits in the context of defending illegal searches targeting African American males. Borkowski, in an interview with me, went on to suggest that Milwaukee is soft on crime, but he doesn’t appear to have done much homework on the issue.
He charged that “the police chief doesn’t support the officers, he doesn’t have their back,” to which Flynn’s spokesperson Timothy Gauerke says, “Alderman Borkowski has never had a conversation with Chief Flynn about the operations or administration of the department.”
Borkowski suggested police should create a “traffic bureau” to go after speeding cars and pay for it by issuing more tickets. But has there been an increase in speeding in the city? And should this be a priority for police?
He pointed to the streetcar and suggested the Tax Incremental Financing money spent on it should go for more police. In that respect, Borkowski is in line with the policies of his predecessor, Dudzik, who opposed the streetcar. But you can oppose the streetcar without vilifying your colleagues.
Borkowski, by contrast, came into City Hall with guns blazing. As one alderman notes, Borkowski’s maiden speech as alderman declared he was part of “a mission to clean up City Hall,” a shot at his new colleagues aimed at pleasing streetcar opponents. The same source says Borkowski has little or no relationship with his new colleagues.
“I didn’t come down here to make friends,” Borkowski told me. He’s clearly succeeded.
Which seems out of character: Borkowski was a conservative on the mostly liberal county board but wasn’t at odds with colleagues. He always seemed modest and friendly. Now he’s verging on a demagogue.
“I want to see if my colleagues react,” he says of his controversial comments. “I’m happy to be some spark that changes things.”
But by mid-day Wednesday the spark hadn’t lit any policy fires. “It’s been a very very quiet day,” he confessed. “I expected to have my phone ringing off the hook and it hasn’t been… Maybe I’ve been delusional.”