Budget restricts internal police questions; Chief, mayor say action would cost city taxpayers
GREG J. BOROWSKI of the Journal Sentinel staff
(MILWAUKEE, Wis.) -- Scanning Gov. Scott McCallum's proposed state budget, city officials came across this unusual provision: Questioning of police officers by internal investigators would be restricted to weekdays, from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The item, inserted at the request of the Milwaukee Police Association, is now drawing heavy criticism from the chief and the mayor who argue it could unnecessarily delay some critical investigations and cost taxpayers overtime for officers to come in off their regular shifts.
What's more, they say, it amounts to an end-run by the union after other efforts to block Chief Arthur Jones' policy failed.
"We've been in court on it, they went the collective bargaining route and now it just appears in the governor's budget bill," Jones said. "It may look like a very small item, but it has major ramifications on costs and how the department is operated."
With the number of internal investigations rising, and each officer entitled to have a union representative or someone else present during questioning, the union says the change is needed to bring order to a system run amok. The provision would apply only to the Milwaukee department -- not any others in the state.
"It's a response to the volume of the investigations on a 24 hour a day, seven day a week basis," said union Vice President Bill Ward.
In virtually all cases, top union officers -- either Ward, President Bradley DeBraska or Secretary- Treasurer Patrick Doyle -- sit in on the interviews. In one memo, Jeff Fleming of the city's lobbying department argues investigations will be delayed under the provision "so that union representatives can sleep in."
Ward counters that in most cases -- unless the investigation is for an officer-involved shooting or other major incident -- officers have seven days to submit to an interview. And all shifts overlap, at least for an hour, during the 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. period.
It's not the first time the city has found what it considers to be a local control issue included in the state budget.
In 1993, Gov. Tommy G. Thompson's budget included a provision that led to the city, in effect, having to pay DeBraska's salary, about $55, 000 a year, for a "police liaison officer."
Mayor John O. Norquist said the new provision on investigations doesn't belong in the budget.
"It doesn't cost the state any money, so they figure why not stick it to the Milwaukee taxpayers," he said.
A Norquist aide estimated the provision could cost the city $100,000 in overtime.
Both Jones and Norquist have either written or spoken to McCallum, who collaborated on the budget with Thompson -- a longtime ally of the MPA. McCallum said he would look into it.
But a spokeswoman for McCallum said the governor hasn't changed his mind.
"It was included in order to basically provide a better level of legal representation during interrogations, so they're not held on odd hours or after hours," said McCallum spokeswoman Lisa Hull. "The governor feels it's fair to talk to people about any potential problem with their job during working hours."
The city's position, though, is that the existing policy allows officers to be questioned during their working hours -- even if they're not the preferred hours of union officers.
To get the item out of the budget, city lobbyists will now have to focus on the Legislature.
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