Archive for June, 2011

Reason, Not Demagoguery, Needed on Police Pay Issue

The issue for many outside of law enforcement, including journalists, is difficult to understand; however, when it comes to “pay” for “fired” Milwaukee police officers, the facts are rarely explained well by members of the media, including those in talk-radio. 

http://www.jsonline.com/news/opinion/124217314.html

Officers are fired for a variety of reasons.  In most instances, when a termination proceeding is initiated, an officer is convicted of a crime.  I find this somewhat ironic since a handful of police departments in Wisconsin actually hire applicants with minor criminal convictions (disorderly conduct or first offense OWI, which in most states is a misdemeanor).

Being Wisconsin’s only Class A city—defined by state law as a municipality with a population of over 500,000—many state laws applicable to Milwaukee do not affect other cities, villages or towns.  This is why political leaders out-state often refer to Wisconsin’s only Class A city as ‘the State of Milwaukee.’

The administration of police departments, as well as the disciplinary process involving police officers, is tied to Milwaukee’s Class A designation.  Unfortunately, some in the media—those with a rather noticeable bias against Milwaukee officers—have contorted and twisted the issue to the point that requires a reasoned explanation.  

For whatever reason—one that has never been fully explained—the Milwaukee Police Department’s chief of police is the only leader of a municipal law enforcement agency in Wisconsin that can subjectively and arbitrarily fire a police officer.  In all other municipal jurisdictions, a police chief can simply recommend to their respective police and fire commissions that an officer be terminated.  These commissions then conduct a just cause hearing to affirm the police chief’s recommendation or collectively confer to make their own disciplinary recommendations.  However, police officers from every other municipal jurisdiction receive their pay throughout the hearing process. 

The way the law now stands, police officers in Milwaukee are the ONLY officers in the state that immediately forfeit salary based on the arbitrary and subjective findings of their police chief.

Some left-wing police haters, fiscal conservatives, and country club types, you know the crowd—those that sit on their confortable suburban patios sipping cocktails, while lacking the intestinal fortitude required to patrol Milwaukee’s inner city—could care less.  They argue two points:  that officers are rarely fired without cause and that fired officers can receive back pay if they are reinstated by the Fire and Police Commission. 

Now, imagine you are an officer fired arbitrary and wrongfully by the police chief.  You depend on your salary to pay the mortgage and need a health insurance plan to cover your family, but, because you either did something politically incorrect or work for a particular unit within the department on the outs with the chief of police, you find yourself fired without so much as a just cause hearing.  State leaders, as well as the editorial board at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, apparently believe that law enforcement salaries are so lavish that individual officers should simply set aside $25,000 to $50,000 in case they become political hot potatoes.

And for those who argue that few are rarely disciplined unjustifiably, cases abound of officers being targeted by agents of the police chief.  In Milwaukee, for example, Police Chief Arthur Jones’  Internal Affairs investigators planted a gun in a dumpster on Mitchell Street, instructed a gang member on probation to call officers in the gang unit to tell them the gun was in the dumpster, and then, when the officers recovered the gun with their supervisor’s approval, had tactical enforcement officers whisk the two officers away.  Calls where then made to the Milwaukee County DA’s office in an attempt to have the officers investigated for extortion.  After a deputy DA scoffed, the officers where investigated and later charged with rule violations.  In the interim, they were both transferred for basically doing their jobs.

Once upon a time, another Milwaukee police chief fired a male and a female officer for adulterous conduct that occurred in the privacy of the female officers’ residence.  Read the below link to see the scathing rebuke of the police chief by the Wisconsin Supreme Court:  http://www.aele.org/law/2008FPAPR/oddsen.html

Now, once a police and fire commission terminates a police officer in any jurisdiction in Wisconsin, pay to the employee immediately ceases.  Since members of these commissions are political appointees of the mayor, officers may appeal their terminations through the courts, but do not receive pay while doing so.  And, over the course of the past three decades, the courts—recognizing that the Fire and Police Commission is sometimes little more than a political dog-and-pony show—have reinstated police officers.

One recent case is that of Detective Phil Sliwinski, fired by Police Chief Arthur Jones.  The City of Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission upheld Jones’ firing, even as they denied Sliwinski the right to call a witness.  A Wisconsin appeals court ordered Sliwinski reinstated and Circuit Court Judge Timothy Dugan ordered the city to fork over $328,321 in back pay, as Sliwinski went unpaid for almost five years during the ensuing court fight.

http://www.jsonline.com/news/milwaukee/46769167.html

Unfortunately, what transpires on the seventh floor offices of the Police Administration Building sometimes provides the  fodder for novels like The Cozen Protocol.

http://www.badgerwordsmith.com/spingolafiles/2011/02/09/retired-mpd-captain-reviews-milwaukee-based-crime-novel/

For those concerned with due process and rightful discipline—not selling papers or scoring political points—a better state-wide policy is a level the playing field for ALL Wisconsin police officers.  If police chiefs throughout Wisconsin are prohibited from arbitrary and subjectively firing police officers without a just cause hearing, then why can’t Milwaukee’s police chief play by the same rules?

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Steve Spingola is a retired Milwaukee Police Department homicide detective. 

If your organization is in need of an outstanding guest speaker, please consider the Spingola Files’ Psychology of Homicide presentation.  For more information, visit   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8TF2kAvSSyU&feature=related

© Steve Spingola, Wales, WI, 2011


Rants of a Sane Man, Part II

Bail Debacle 

Tucked inside the pending state budget is a proposal that would allow bail bondsmen to, once again, raise their ugly heads in Wisconsin. 

“Anytime you place profit-driven organizations in control of an individual’s liberty, corruption must be a major concern,” Chief Judge John Storck of the Sixth Judicial District told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “The bail [bondsmen] system unfairly penalizes low-income defendants who can’t afford the un-refundable fee. It subverts the justice system, because defendants who can afford to buy their freedom – even those that may pose a relatively greater risk – are free to go at a much lower cost than under the current system.”

Judge Storck has it half right.

In states where bail bond is lawful, a private entity, typically called ‘a bondsman,’ posts a defendant’s bail.  In most instances, the defendant is required to pay the bondsmen ten percent of the total sum of the bail.  The bondsman, in turn, posts the entire amount with the court.  When the case is closed, the total amount of bail is then refunded to the bondsman, who keeps the ten percent posted by the defendant as a fee for services.

In Illinois, for example, former police sergeant Drew Peterson is awaiting trial for the alleged slaying of this third wife. Peterson is currently in custody, although his bail is set at $2 million. If Peterson provided $200,000 to a bail bondsman, the bondsman would then post the $2 million with the court.  Regardless of the case’s outcome, however, the $200,000 would forever belong to the bail bondsman. 

In the past, the powers-that-be in state government recognized that the bail bond operation fostered an atmosphere of corruption. Like other private corporations, bail bondsmen compete against each other.  Since most bail bondsmen require a ten percent non-refundable deposit from defendants, getting a leg-up on a competitor might necessitate paying a kick back to a police officer or sheriff’s deputy recommending a certain bondsman’s services. The kick back could come in the form of free tickets to sporting events, free booze, and/or discounted vacation packages. 

Moreover, in states employing a bail bond system, bail is generally much higher.  After all, like other citizens, individual bail bondsmen can contribute to political campaigns of judges. High bail set by individual judges means a larger, ten percent premium forfeited to bondsmen.  

Back in the old days, when the mob ran a protection racket in town, the term for such a fraud was ‘one hand washing the other.’

On Tap: South Side Gang War

In late May, a Milwaukee police officer fired a shot at an armed gunman near 10th and Orchard, an area with a long history of gang related trouble.  In the immediate aftermath of the incident, Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn held roll call for his officers on the street and told the media that trouble was brewing between three street gangs in the area.

The near south side to the east of South 20th Street is known as Latin King turf, although other gangs, the Unknown Kings and La Familia operated, in the recent past, just a few blocks to the west and north respectively, while the Mexcian Posse refuses to religate its operations to recognized geographical borders.  Another street gang infamous for dealing crack to local prostitutes, the Spanish Cobras, is attempting to sneak east of S. 19th Street.

Sources say the Latin Kings are making yet another come back, of sorts, after a second round of federal indictments.

Gangs seek to control an area to reap the rewards of the drug trade. The money is big, as are the risks, and there are no courts to arbitrate disputes in the shadowy world of the narcotics traffickers. Mitchell Nevin’s Milwaukee-based crime novel, The Cozen Protocol, is an accurate depiction of the drug underworld on the city’s south side, where two, fictional south side Latino gangs–Los Dominicanos and the Latin Maniacs–slug it out.

Like La Costa Nostra crime families, street gangs seem to have little problem filling their ranks no matter how many federal indictments come down. All law enforcement can do is make life as miserable as a possible for those profiting by destroying the social fabric of entire neighborhoods. 

This link to WTMJ radio indicates that a rash of recent violence could escalate with the summer weather:

http://www.620wtmj.com/news/local/124126599.html

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Steve Spingola is an author and retired Milwaukee Police Department homicide detective.

If your organization is in need of a fascinating guest speaker, consider the Spingola Files presentation The Psychology of Homicide. For more information, view the YouTube ad:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8TF2kAvSSyU&feature=related

© Steven Spingola, Wales, WI, 2011


Newspapers’ Championing of Causes Leaves Readers in the Lurch

In today’s Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, reporter John Diedrich’s story Felons’ Helpful Kin Get a Pass continues down the newspaper’s path of trumpeting specific issues in the hopes of winning journalistic awards. This hunt for professional accolades, however, leaves readers with the impression that a proposed new state law will only affect hardcore felons. 

http://www.jsonline.com/watchdog/watchdogreports/123695519.html

In all actuality, nothing could be further from the truth.

While most citizens of Wisconsin want to see those assisting murderers, robbers, and rapists by concealing or destroying evidence held accountable, the article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel fails to explain how this new law could unknowingly ensnarl family members for relatively minor offenses.

Here is one hypothetical example.

Two fictional parents, John and Betty Smith, residing in southeastern Wisconsin, take a four-day trip to Door County.  The Smiths leave behind their 17-year-old son, Matthew, to work a weekend part-time job.

When John Smith returns on Monday night, he goes into the basement to refill the water softener.  Behind a washbasin, John Smith observes an empty quart bottle of vodka; however, the rest of the basement looks in order. 

Now, John Smith was once a teenager, too.  He realizes that his son, Matthew, may have had some friends over and that underage drinking may have taken place in his basement. John confronts Matthew, who, of course, denies he knows anything about the vodka bottle. Realizing he will likely never get to the bottom of the matter, John Smith tosses the empty bottle of vodka in the garbage.

The garbage crew then stops by on Tuesday morning and picks-up the weekly trash.

On Tuesday night, a police officer knocks on John Smith’s door. The officer informs Mr. Smith that a parent of a 16-year-old girl called to complain that their daughter came home intoxicated after allegedly drinking at the Smith residence on Saturday night.  The officer asks Mr. Smith if he was aware that a possible party took place at his residence over the past weekend and that alcohol was involved.

Like 95 percent of most Americans, Mr. Smith has very little knowledge of the law and/or the criminal justice system. As such, Mr. Smith tells the officer that he and his wife were out of town for the weekend, but, when he returned last night, he did find an empty bottle of vodka in the basement.  Mr. Smith further tells the officer that he believed his son, who is 17, might have had some friends over to partake in drink. 

The officer then asks Mr. Smith what he did with the bottle of vodka.  Smith explains that, after confronting his son, who denied any wrongdoing, he tossed the bottle in the garbage.

The officer then explains to Mr. Smith that he destroyed evidence of a crime. Mr. Smith is then arrested and charged by the DA’s office.

Under the aforementioned law proposed in the legislature, and championed by a reporter from the newspaper, this scenario is not a reach. 

Of course, readers of the newspaper are left with the impression that this new law will only target felons.  And why wouldn’t they?  After all, Mr. Diedrich’s article fails to explain the intricacies of the proposed law.

Unfortunately, this is what occurs when journalists attempt to make news instead of simply reporting the news.  Which is why the old adage, ‘Don’t believe everything you read,’ retains its relevance.

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Steve Spingola is an author and retired Milwaukee Police Department homicide detective.

If your organization is in need of a fascinating guest speaker, consider the Spingola Files presentation The Psychology of Homicide.  For more information, visit http://www.badgerwordsmith.com/the_psychology_of_homicide_presentation.html

© Steven Spingola, Wales, WI, 2011


Rants of a Sane Man

Concealed Carry: Wisconsin’s Joint Finance Committee Makes the Right Call

The Wisconsin legislature’s Joint Finance Committee approved recommendations to make Wisconsin the 49th state to approve the concealed carry of firearms.  The law would require those lawfully seeking to carry firearms concealed to receive training and to obtain permits.  Individuals over the age of 21—not prohibited from possessing firearms by either state or federal law—are eligible for permits. The law is a solid compromise.  Retired or long-serving law enforcement officers and those honorably discharged from the military may obtain waviers from the training portion of the bill.

State Senator Lena Taylor continues to demagogue the issue.  Taylor told Channel 4 News that persons who have domestic violence on their records would have access to permits.  Since she is an attorney, one has to assume that Senator Taylor knows the difference between a rap sheet and a record.  A rap sheet is list of arrests.  A record is a notation of criminal convictions.  An arrest, as far as the criminal justice system is concerned, means relatively little.  Annually, about 50 percent of those arrested in Wisconsin are not convicted of crimes.  There is a big difference between probable cause to affect an arrest and the proof beyond a reasonable doubt required to obtain a criminal conviction.  Moreover, persons convicted of acts of domestic violence are prohibited by the federal law from possessing firearms. As such, they are not eligible for concealed carry permits in Wisconsin. 

Shorewood Police Catch Undue Flack for Textbook High-Risk Traffic Stop

Tonight, Channel 4 News also featured a segment pertaining to the traffic stop of Shorewood High School track coach Dominic Newman.

Shorewood officers stopped Newman early Sunday morning after receiving a call of a possible stolen auto. As law enforcement training throughout the state dictates, the officers conducted a high-risk traffic stop. 

I viewed the dash cam video displayed on the newscast.  The Shorewood police officers did a textbook job of executing the stop. 

After Newman was placed in handcuffs and secured in the rear of a squad car, Shorewood officers investigated further and realized they had the wrong party.

“You have not my, but Shorewood Police Department’s sincerest apology,” said an officer on the dash cam’s video. “We don’t mean to embarrass you, but we have to check things out.”

The Shorewood police deserve a pat on the back, not flack from the media, for their display of true professionalism. 

After all, if the car had been stolen, did Mr. Newman actually expect the police to simply walk-up to the driver’s side window and ask for his license?

Watch Channel Four’s story regarding the stop of Mr. Newman by visiting:

http://www.todaystmj4.com/news/local/123584224.html

Could Weiner Get Whacked?  

Some residents of New York Congressman Anthony Weiner’s district believe lewd and crude online antics are a personal matter that should not preclude him from holding public office.  An alleged phone-sex conversation Weiner had with a woman, however, could result in his political demise.

After the alleged conversation ended, the woman called Weiner back at the number left on her caller ID.  The woman received a voice mail message indicating that the telephone number was for outgoing calls from members of the United States Congress. 

It is this alleged call, no doubt, that will cause congressional ethics committee members to look long-and-hard at Weiner’s use of government owned property for personal gratification.

Milwaukee-Based Crime Novel Surges at Amazon.com

Mitchell Nevin’s Milwaukee-based crime mystery, The Cozen Protocol, surged to #2 this week on Amazon.com’s list of criminal procedure books, reports a news release from the book’s publisher.

In mid-February, retired Milwaukee Police Department Captain Glenn Frankovis posted his book review of The Cozen Protocol here at the Spingola Files (see the below link): 

http://www.badgerwordsmith.com/spingolafiles/2011/02/09/retired-mpd-captain-reviews-milwaukee-based-crime-novel/

I have tipped-off more than a few media outlets about the this well researched novel.  With a few exceptions, it appears local news departments are content covering stories of dirty restaurants and bad, seasonable weather to explore a work some law enforcement veterans see as outstanding.  

Spingola Files’ Psychology of Homicide Ad Now Posted @ YouTube

Over the course of the past several months, I have traveled to various locales to present the Psychology of Homicide, a Spingola Files’ feature highlighting a few high profile investigations.

A new ad for this interesting event is now up-and-running at YouTube:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8TF2kAvSSyU

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Steve Spingola is an author and retired Milwaukee Police Department homicide detective.

If your organization is in need of a fascinating guest speaker, consider the Spingola Files presentation The Psychology of Homicide.  For more information, visit http://www.badgerwordsmith.com/the_psychology_of_homicide_presentation.html

© Steven Spingola, Wales, WI, 2011