While officers’ attitudes about domestic violence in the community have evolved over time, most police around the country still don’t take it seriously when the perpetrator is one of their own, according to experts. Handling such accusations the same as any other criminal allegation against police, as Milwaukee does, isn’t good enough, experts say.
Because responding officers can be biased, one of the goals of a model policy on officer-involved domestic violence is to remove their discretion, said Thomas, who retired from the Police Department in Montgomery County, Md., in 2000. Following written guidelines step by step protects the victim, the investigator and the alleged perpetrator, he said.
“If I’m accused of being involved in this activity and I didn’t do it, I want a good, clear exhaustive investigation so I can be exonerated,” he said.
That didn’t happen in the case of Lt. David Salazar, a supervisor in the Milwaukee police’s Professional Performance Division, which investigates wrongdoing by officers.
After receiving a tip that Salazar’s wife called 911 during a fight with him, the Journal Sentinel made a public records request for audio recordings of all calls associated with his home address and any police reports affiliated with them.
No reports were written, according to the department’s response.
The department provided only a dispatcher’s log of the June 2010 incident, which confirms that Salazar’s wife called for help during an argument over suspicions he was cheating. She told the dispatcher he was intoxicated and trying to break down the door.
The newspaper requested the information in August 2010. Three months later, the department said the recording of the call had been inadvertently purged from the system.
Then, in January, the story changed.
Department spokeswoman Anne E. Schwartz said that actually, the system malfunctioned and no emergency calls were recorded the entire day Salazar’s wife called 911.
The supervisor called to the scene, Capt. Aaron Raap, determined Salazar “had not operated a motor vehicle, had not had physical contact with the caller and did not appear to be intoxicated,” Schwartz said in an email.
Raap decided an internal investigation was not necessary, and Salazar was not reassigned or disciplined as a result of the incident, Schwartz said.
“The determination was based on Capt. Raap’s years of training and experience,” she said. “Police officers use their discretion every day in every situation.”
The state’s model policy says if no arrests are made, “the on-scene supervisor shall submit a written report explaining any and all reasons why an arrest was not made or a warrant was not sought.”
Allowing officers to hide behind discretion in cases such as Salazar’s is “unacceptable,” Thomas said.
“It’s saying we’re just not going to uphold the law with our own the way we do with a citizen,” he said. “We should, in law enforcement, be held to a higher standard because we’re supposed to enforce the law. … Otherwise, it’s the fox watching the henhouse.”
Neither Salazar — who received a unit service award in 2009 as part of the department’s homicide division — nor his wife responded to certified letters seeking comment.
Salazar continues to supervise investigations of other officers accused of wrongdoing.
Still investigating cases
Officers such as Velez, convicted of the beating in the hotel room, continue to investigate domestic violence, the newspaper’s investigation found. In April alone, Velez responded to domestic disputes five times — an average of more than once a week, according to the most recent records released to the newspaper.
That’s another direct contradiction to the recommendations in the state’s model policy. It’s a recipe for destroying community confidence and placing victims at risk, the policy says.
“There are grave concerns regarding how officers who commit the crime of domestic violence respond to domestic violence calls in the community,” the policy says. “Obviously, their personal conduct affects their capability to effectively deal with these situations impartially. Moreover, an officer, sympathetic to an abuser, may not adequately protect a victim.”
Munaker, the former Office of Justice Assistance trainer, agreed.
“We can’t let abusers investigate this. We just can’t,” she said.
Flynn has said fighting domestic violence is a priority for the department. In February, he rolled out a new initiative to combat the problem, targeting repeat offenders and calling for greater protection of frequent victims.
John Diedrich and Ben Poston of the Journal Sentinel staff contributed to this report.
Oct. 30, 2011
Officers’ criminal records are tough to track
By GINA BARTON
In 2004, Frank Jude Jr. was beaten by a group of off-duty Milwaukee police officers at a party in Bay View.
Officers ripped off Jude’s clothes, punched and kicked him in the head and threatened him with a knife and a gun. As a result, seven cops were convicted of crimes and sentenced to prison.
A federal judge called Jon Bartlett the worst of them.
Before Bartlett started working for the Milwaukee police, he was convicted of fleeing and eluding law enforcement in Door County. The Milwaukee Police Department knew about the conviction when Bartlett applied for a job as an officer. He was hired anyway.
The public learned about Bartlett’s earlier criminal record only after the Journal Sentinel uncovered it in a civil court file while reporting on the Jude case.
After that, the newspaper asked the Police Department, the Fire and Police Commission and the Milwaukee County district attorney’s office for a list of officers who have been convicted of crimes.
In response to public records requests dating back to 2007, the department and the commission told the newspaper such a record does not exist, and officials would not create one.
Michael G. Tobin, who became executive director of the commission in late 2007, said he wanted to research the question shortly after he started the job, but the commission’s database wasn’t set up to answer it.
It still isn’t.
“Anecdotally, it’s a very small number,” Tobin said earlier this year.