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.

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:

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.

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

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?


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

© Steve Spingola, Wales, WI, 2011

One Response

  1. John Belsha

    Once again, Steve, you’re right on the money. Your analogy of the fired officer not having the basic means to provide for his family drives home the point. Inherent ‘cop haters’ such as Sen. Spencer Coggs (D) Milw., and Sen. Chris Larson (D) Milw., and their compadres who supported the legislation against Milwaukee Police Officers should be remembered at election time by all of the officers, their relatives, friends, and supporters. The only people who can fire these clowns and take away their pay is the voting citizens. Senator Chris Larson is a convicted criminal who hates police due to his arrest for theft. He has never taken responsibility for his actions and blames law enforcement for his past troubles. These are two of the cowards that fled from their jobs and still received pay. The old double standard is alive and well in the dumocrat party.

    July 1, 2011 at 1:13 am

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