Police Misconduct, Taxpayer Expense, and Our City Taking Ahold of Responsibility for Public Safety
In 2008, Craig Mastantuono and Rebecca Coffee supported then-State Representative and now-Judge Pedro Colon in his campaign for Milwaukee City Attorney. Mastantuono served as a policy advisor, and Coffee as campaign manager. In the months prior to that election and in light of the notorious police beating of Milwaukee resident Frank Jude, the Colon campaign issued a proposed public safety policy, promising to take the City Attorney's Office into the fight for improved police compliance with the highest professional standards related to police-citizen encounters. Part of that policy is below:
TAKING RESPONSIBILITY FOR DEVELOPING THE BEST POLICE FORCE
The City Attorney is responsible for defending civil lawsuits against the City and its taxpayers. Despite this important responsibility, never has the City Attorney’s Office had a comprehensive compliance or Best Practices Program to help Police Officers to better do their jobs. As the elected official charged with this duty, the City Attorney must provide preventive training and advice on the legal requirements of law enforcement officers and work harder to hold our Department to the highest professional standards. We must work to prevent liability before it is allowed to occur. If this is not done now, millions of dollars in judgments and settlements will continue to walk out of City taxpayer coffers.
The violent beating of Frank Jude sent shockwaves through a Police Department in need of direct and proactive involvement by The City Attorney. Without a coordinated Police compliance and training program, public trust in our Police Officers will continue to erode, creating conditions that actually foster crime in our community rather than prevent it. Both the public and the Police Officers – the vast majority of whom suffer from the misdeeds of the minority – deserve better.
Corporate liability lawyers in the private sector provide advice to their clients on how to avoid liability through preventive and best practices training. Our City Attorney must do the same thing. Our Police Officers need better training on citizen interactions, use of force, and effectively investigating crime while adhering to the requirements of our laws and constitutions. Our Officers must always understand that there is a right way and a wrong way of law enforcement and crime prevention. Only then can we begin to restore the integrity that our Department has lost.
We will partner with The District Attorney, The Police Department, and the Police Officers to develop and implement state of the art policing practices to promote and achieve safety and prevent liability. Milwaukee Police Officers – who serve every day with integrity – will welcome a proactive City Attorney who seeks to provide them with better tools and information to do their jobs.
Our City must work to avoid costly lawsuits where nobody wins, families are permanently broken, communities become distrustful, and taxpayers foot the bill.
The City Attorney cannot be absent from this discussion. Every leader in our community must send a signal that we will have one standard for every neighborhood when it comes to safety.
From Colon for City Attorney Crime Prevention and Public Safety Agenda for City Attorney's Office, 2007.
Despite highlighting this issue for voters, and arguing that unchecked police misconduct would continue to cost City taxpayers millions, Colon was defeated by the incumbent at the polls. Fast-forward six years, and the Colon for City Attorney campaign's prediction of continued problems and costs for MKE taxpayers seems prescient. Recent Milwaukee Journal Sentinel headlines describing a federal jury finding that a Milwaukee police detective lied to obtain a warrant that resulted in injury to a citizen, or outlining the lawsuits piling up resulting from a series of disturbing and illegal police strip searches that resulted in criminal charges against several officers are only the latest in a series of transgressions demonstrating that point, and costing us millions.
At Mastantuono & Coffee, we work with, against, and among good police officers every day, most of whom are invested in doing a difficult job as professionally as possible. But serious problems persist, and at some point, having a Milwaukee police force that consistently performs at the highest standards will improve crime prevention, build better trust between officers and residents, and save our City money. Leadership from a variety of sources will be needed in this effort. For our part, we believe that bringing attention and perspective to this problem is necessary, and we'll continue to do so as time and circumstances allow. On the City leadership front, clearly the coordinated police training and compliance enforcement we urged in 2007 continues to be a glaring need, and until it is met effectively, our City will continue to bear the human and monetary costs that accrue when officers fail in their duty to serve and protect.