Wisc. village sues former officer to recoup training costs

By Marie Rohde
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

VILLAGE OF BROWN DEER, Wisc. The Village of Brown Deer is suing a former police officer for the costs it incurred in training and equipping him for a job he left only a few weeks after finishing a state-mandated 13-week training and certification course.

The former officer, Barry Nelson, is now a deputy with the Sheboygan County Sheriff's Department. He contends in a counterclaim that the village owes him $793 his last paycheck and holiday pay that the village withheld as partial payment for the $17,827 it paid him for his certification, 13 weeks of pay while training and uniforms.

He left the department on March 5, 2007.

John Fuchs, Brown Deer's village attorney, said Thursday that Nelson had completed his training but quit just days before his certification from the state came through. That meant the village paid all the costs of making him a police officer but reaped none of the benefits.

"We had him for the training, but we never had him for even a day as a certified officer," Fuchs said. "He could ride along with another officer, but he was not certified to perform any of the duties we trained him for."

Nelson's lawyer, Anthony J. Resimius, said Nelson was forced to resign from the Brown Deer department after the department learned he was a candidate for another law enforcement job.

"The Village of Brown Deer suspended Barry Nelson, made it clear to him that he was not welcome at the department and forced his resignation," Resimius said.

Nelson added the union that represents Brown Deer's police officers to his lawsuit, saying it failed to represent him in the dispute and failed to explain the clause in the contract requiring him to repay the village for the cost of training if he left before serving for three years.

"He never knew about it," Resimius said.

The village also is seeking legal fees, interest and other costs associated with the lawsuit, which has been assigned to Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Christopher Foley.

The problem of officers leaving one department for another soon after being hired is not unique.

Vince Vitale, a former Milwaukee police captain who now heads the Milwaukee Area Technical College program that runs a training and state-required certification program for suburban communities, said the practice of jumping from one department to another is common in the western United States.

It's expensive for a community to train its officers, especially in this belt-tightening era, he said.

"The municipality has to pay the salary for an officer in training, give benefits including insurance and worker compensation if there's an injury," Vitale said. "If they are trained for 13 weeks, that's a quarter of a year."

In its contract with the union representing police officers, Brown Deer negotiated a clause that requires an officer who leaves within three years of being hired to reimburse the village for its expenses. This is the first time the clause has been invoked.

Whitefish Bay Police Chief Bob Jacobs said the cost of certification of police officers is so high that most smaller departments require candidates to complete the 520-hour training on their own.

The Milwaukee Police Department has its own training program, which requires far more training hours.

In the mid-1990s, the city's Fire and Police Commission considered but decided not to adopt a policy requiring officers to stay on the job after completing their studies, said Michael Tobin, executive director of the commission. Tobin said the Milwaukee Common Council rejected the proposal because the city was concerned that there were legal obstacles in implementing it.

Copyright 2007 The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

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