Fire & Police Commission Is Too Lax
It has statutory authority to oversee Police Department’s operations, but isn’t doing so.
The Wisconsin State Statutes §62.50(1m), City of Milwaukee Charter Ordinances Chapter 314, and the Fire and Police Commission’s own rules and website all declare that the FPC is responsible for all aspects of the operations of the police and fire departments.
The reality is that at some point, whether by design, lack of resources, or lack of backbone, the FPC stopped monitoring the operations of the Milwaukee Police Department.
This was called out in the 2006 “Promoting Police Accountability in Milwaukee: Strengthening the Fire and Police Commission” report presented by the Police Assessment Resource Center (PARC), in the 2017 DOJ Collaborative Reform Initiative Findings and Recommendations and again in the ACLU “Stop and Frisk” Settlement Agreement and Court Order. You would think that, as a defendant under court orders to make significant changes in the way they monitor the MPD’s operations, that the FPC Board of Commissioners would have finally “gotten the memo.”
Unfortunately, most of the FPC’s commissioners are in a state of denial regarding their obligations to monitor the operations of the MPD. This was painfully evident during the hearing of FPC File no. FPC19193 regarding changes to SOP 120: Operating While Intoxicated, and SOP 660: Vehicle Pursuits at their May 16th regular meeting. I spoke during the public comments section of the meeting specifically challenging the use of drug recognition experts in SOP 120 by the MPD. Not only was the MPD trying to legitimize the use of pseudo-science in evaluating the impairment of vehicle operators, they were also trying to slip the use of DRE’s into the schools and into the context of any other criminal offense that includes the state of intoxication of the accused person as an element of the crime.
Commissioner Everett Cocroft also had doubts about the use of DREs and in the middle of the discussion, with many unanswered questions on the table, Commissioner Steven DeVougas interrupted the proceedings and made the stunning assertion that the FPC is NOT responsible for monitoring the operations of the Police Department:
“… the point of clarification, I think it’s probably gets into the policies versus operations aspect. The DRE was part of your operations, which is typically out of the purview of the Fire and Police Commission. So, it wasn’t anything unlawful on the department’s part, they’re just codifying it into a policy which brings it under our purview at this time.”
Commissioner Cocroft summed it up pretty well:
“It’s not in the policy and you’re already doing it, so you’re just adding what you’re already doing to the policy. We had no idea what a DRE was before y’all brought it here. You’ve pretty much been operating with these DREs without the knowledge of the Fire and Police Commission. If we struck it down, y’all could keep doing the same thing.”
This is the heart of the systemic problems we have with the Milwaukee Police Department: The FPC is NOT monitoring their operations. The MPD can do whatever it wants to so long as it does not attempt to bring it to the FPC for approval as a standard operating procedure. And, in cases like SOP 120, they can simply claim that they have been using drug recognition experts for many years. Nothing to see here folks, move along. Apparently the FPC’s research staff did not investigate the MPD’s assertions regarding the legitimacy of DREs. They did not investigate the lawsuits brought by the ACLU that are currently pending in Vermont and Georgia, challenging the use of DREs by law enforcement. The MPD did not need to present one shred of evidence to support its use of DREs beyond the fact that it’s been using them for years and its testimony is accepted in court.
Whether or not the FPC should have authorized the use of drug recognition experts by the MPD is debatable. What is not debatable is the way the FPC is shirking its duty to monitor the operations of the MPD. Commissioner DeVougas asserted that there is a “Chinese Wall” between FPC polices and MPD operations. In effect, he admitted that the MPD has carte blanche to do whatever it wants to so long as it does not attempt to get the FPC to sanction it in a standard operating procedure.
Yes, the FPC is badly broken!
Paul Mozina is a retired IT professional and an activist who has opposed the War on Drugs since the early 1980s.