Police Firing – Who Decides?
Jason Silverstein: Should Citizens Have the Right to Fire a Police Officer?
Here are the facts. On September 22, 2011, Officer Richard Schoen stopped Jeanine Tracy, because she made a sudden lane change without the proper signals. She was handcuffed for disorderly conduct and driven to District Seven police station. During the ride, she cursed, spat at the car’s partition, and stomped on the backseat. When they arrived at the station, she did not get out. With his left hand, Schoen grabbed her shirt. With his right hand, he punched her repeatedly in the head. He grabbed her by the hair, dragged her out of the car, threw her on the ground, and struck her with his knee. These are the facts and we know they are facts, because there is video from the squad car’s dashboard camera.
Here’s what happened next. Schoen was fired on May 1, 2012, because he violated the department’s code of conduct. That code says a police officer must use the minimum force necessary to accomplish his or her purpose. But the story doesn’t end there. Schoen had been a police officer for nine years. He had a positive record, and only praise from superiors. Before he joined the MPD, he gave ten years of his life to military service. So, when he appealed the case to the Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission, they held a two-day hearing. On December 3, the Commission reinstated him, deciding sixty days without pay was a better punishment.
Police Firing – Who Decides?
Briefly – The police department fired Schoen for excessive use of force. The Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission reinstated him with a three month suspension. Then after public protests, the Commission decided that firing was more appropriate. So, who decides?
I teach criminal justice courses, and this is a fascinating piece of writing and it is an interesting if painful situation. I don’t take any pleasure from watching police officers punch handcuffed individuals. And I do understand that being cussed at by a suspect who is stomping and spitting for five minutes is going to get on my last nerve.
Should the public have influence over hiring and firing decisions concerning police officers?
The situation here was complex but I find the amount of citizen action appropriate and the commission response appropriate. However, it is easy to see where there could be situations where police were more immune to public discontent or where public opinion was allowed to influence matters of professionalism. I’d like to see some more writing long these lines.
From around the web –
From the web site, JSOnline (Journal Sentinel Online):
In 2009, Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Sgt. Scott Krause punched a handcuffed suspect in the face in the back of a squad car. In 2011, Milwaukee police Officer Richard Schoen did the same thing. Both incidents were captured on squad car video.
Krause was fired, convicted of a felony and served 18 months in prison.
Schoen ended up with a 60-day suspension and no criminal charges.
Amid an outcry from elected officials and members of the public, the Fire and Police Commission will meet Tuesday to review its decision to overturn Chief Edward Flynn’s firing of Schoen. But civil rights advocates continue to question the decision by the Milwaukee County district attorney’s office not to charge him in an incident they say is strikingly similar to the earlier case against Krause.
There are a few obvious differences in the cases: Krause worked for the Sheriff’s Department and struck a white male. Schoen worked for the Police Department and struck a black female.
If Schoen had been convicted of felony misconduct in public office, as Krause was, the commission would not have had the discretion to reinstate him because people convicted of felonies cannot serve as law enforcement officers in Wisconsin.
From the web site, Urban Milwaukee:
We all recognize the difficult job with which Milwaukee police officers are tasked. The City of Milwaukee spends significant taxpayer resources on ensuring the department can deliver quality, professional services. When officers get it right, we must applaud them. When officers exercise the kind of brutal disregard for regulations and human well-being displayed by Officer Schoen, we must hold them accountable. This ensures the protection of our citizens’ most basic rights, as well as the ability of the rule-abiding, vast majority of police officers to ensure residents’ safety.
And finally, from the web site, JSOnline:
The digital video recorders installed in Milwaukee Police Department squad cars are experiencing “unacceptable” rates of failure and 136 will have to be replaced at a cost of up to $900,000.
As a result, the Common Council will consider a plan to spend that money from the city’s contingency fund to replace the devices purchased in 2006 and 2007.
The disclosure comes as videos from those devices have played a critical role in at least two recent cases involving allegations of police misconduct.
In one high-profile case, Derek Williams died in July 2011 after gasping for breath and begging for help for about eight minutes in the back of a Milwaukee police squad car. The incident was recorded on the car’s digital video recorder.
An inquest into Williams’ death will be held Feb. 11.
In another case, the Fire and Police Commission voted to fire Officer Richard Schoen this week after a squad-car video showed he punched a handcuffed woman in the face. The decision was a reversal of a decision to suspend the officer for 60 days.
That video shows Jeanine Tracy stomping her feet, spitting and cursing before Schoen punches her, drags her out of the car by the hair and strikes her in the stomach with his knee after she is on the floor of the police garage.