Below is a letter to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, which the newspaper or, as many old school Milwaukee police officers call it, the “fish wrapper,” refused to publish. On October 28, after receiving no response from the Journal Sentinel Editorial staff, I e-mail David Haynes — the JS’s Editorial Editor — and requested that the below op-ed be published. Mr. Haynes never replied to the e-mail.
October 24, 2014
Dear Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Editor:
On the first floor of the City of Milwaukee’s Safety Academy, the names and photographs of over five dozen Milwaukee police officers grace a wall that literally showcases their service. This distinguished honor, however, is one that every Milwaukee police officer seeks to avoid, as the faces on this wall are of those who have made the ultimate sacrifice.
During my three-decades with the Milwaukee Police Department (MPD), I have spent a great deal of time — as a homicide detective and as a lieutenant — retracing the final moments of those who no longer walk among us. Certainly, some of these tragic deaths could have been avoided. One particular case that comes to mind is the March 19, 1985, coldblooded murders of Rosario Collura and Leonard Lesnieski — two Milwaukee police officers gunned down on the near north side. On that fateful day, the officers approached Terrance Davis, who they suspected on selling drugs from the porch of a home. When one of the officers asked if he had anything in his pockets, Davis replied, “Yeah, I’ll show you,” at which time he removed a handgun from a pocket and shot both officers to death. What we will never know is why the officers, instead of asking, did not conduct a pat down of Davis.
Seventeen-years earlier, the U.S. Supreme Court held that police officers could conduct a frisk of an individual’s outer most garment if an officer — based on the totality of the circumstances— reasonably believed that a person may be armed. Pat downs have undoubtedly saved the lives of numerous police officers. From experience, few things are as hair-raising as conducting frisk and detecting a concealed weapon on a person. Yet, 29-years after the deaths of Officers Collura and Lesnieski, the importance of officer safety is being marginalized by the political correctness of Police Chief Edward Flynn.
On October 15, Chief Flynn terminated the employment Officer Christopher Manney, an officer with 13-years of street-level experience, for allegedly conducting a pat down of Dondre Hamilton in violation of MPD policy. After reading the MPD’s allegations and Officer Manney’s response, I sought input from a number of veteran officers. To a person, we collectively believe Officer Manney’s actions were appropriate. While I typically do not purport to speak for others, I am confident in noting that Chief Flynn’s firing of Officer Manney is being met with widespread condemnation from those who have worn an MPD uniform.
Unfortunately, I believe Chief Flynn’s irresponsible termination of Officer Manney is directly related to his lack of an institutional memory. In 1985, while serving with Officers Collura and Lesnieski at District Five, I have vivid memories of both officers smiling and conversing with their colleagues. During the same period, however, Chief Flynn was an officer in far-away Jersey City. Thus, the image of Flynn as an east coast carpetbagger is fueling a consensus amongst the rank-and-file that the chief sees those fallen officers on that wall at the Safety Academy as simple strangers from a bygone era. This perception, vis-à-vis his treatment of Officer Manney, is reinforced by the police chief’s de facto memo to the rank-and-file that politics takes precedent over officer safety. No doubt, Chief Flynn is sending a dangerous message that, I believe, may result in more faces appearing on that wall of no return at the Safety Academy. Will officers — fearful for their careers — be compelled to repeat the disastrous ways of the past by asking a dangerous or unstable person what those “bulges” are in his or her pockets instead of conducting a simple frisk? If only Officers Collura and Lesnieski could speak from the grave.
Steve Spingola is a retired Milwaukee Police Department Homicide Lieutenant.
During the month of November, Spingola is donating his share of the proceeds from the sale of his book, Best of the Spingola Files, Vol. 1 & 2, to the Officer Manney Support Fund.
Author Mitchell Nevin is also donating his November royalties of the print edition of his Milwaukee-based crime novel, The Cozen Protocol, and Glenn Frankovis is also providing his share of the royalties of his book regarding Area Saturation Patrol. These books make great stocky stuffers and the authors’ share of the proceeds will assist Officer Manney.