Both sides of the law

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District attorney’s list

The district attorney’s office has a bit more information.

Officials there maintain a database of police officers throughout Milwaukee County who have been convicted of crimes or have criminal charges pending against them. In response to the newspaper’s request, the prosecutor’s office provided a list from that database.

But the database does not include information about crimes officers committed before they were hired. And the database contains no information about crimes that occurred before it was created in 2000.

While there is substantial information about criminal records on the state courts’ website, known as CCAP, it is impossible to compare defendants there with a roster of police officers because the department redacts birth dates before releasing the roster to the public.

Further, the system is not all-inclusive and not always accurate. Clerks in different counties don’t consistently code the information they put into the system. Portage County, which includes Stevens Point, does not submit criminal information to the site at all. And because the system is run by the state courts, it doesn’t include information about charges or convictions in other states or federal crimes.

Some officers’ crimes, including Bartlett’s offense in Door County, have been missing from the site without explanation. That conviction was not listed until after it was reported by the Journal Sentinel in the wake of the Jude case.

Credibility at issue

An officer who has been convicted of a crime can be rendered useless as a prosecution witness — especially if dishonesty is involved, said Kenosha County Assistant District Attorney Richard Ginkowski, who once worked as a police officer in Iowa. The defense can use that information to cast doubt on the cop’s testimony.

“If an officer is caught lying, that dilutes their credibility in other cases and makes them less effective as an officer,” he said. “That’s a significant concern.”

That’s one reason departments in many other states, including Illinois, preclude people convicted of certain misdemeanors — generally involving deception, drugs and abusive behavior — from carrying a badge and a gun.

“It’s just overwhelming how people in communities really do believe law enforcement officers have to be held to this standard,” said Kevin McClain, executive director of the Illinois Law Enforcement Training and Standards Board. “People feel that police officers should be models in society.”

Not only are people convicted of those types of crimes barred from being hired as Illinois officers — working officers who are convicted of those crimes are automatically decertified under state law, which means they immediately lose their jobs and can’t be rehired, McClain said. Any officer who fails to notify the state of a conviction — either during the application process or after hiring — can be charged with a felony.

McClain helped draft the statute that set these standards, which took effect in 1999. Not only did average citizens support it, he said, but police officers and their unions did, too.

“It’s not only a situation that protects the public, but it protects the police officers as well,” McClain said. “Police officers would like to believe they can rely on other officers for safety and support in dangerous situations. When there are bad cops out there, other police officers don’t want them out there, either, because they feel it could jeopardize their safety.”

© 2011, Journal Sentinel Inc. All rights reserved.

© 2011, Journal Sentinel Inc. All rights reserved.

© 2011, Journal Sentinel Inc. All rights reserved.

Oct. 30, 2011

Vos acted to restore fired cops’ pay


As state Rep. Robin Vos (R-Rochester) tried to drum up support for a provision in the state budget that would pay the salaries of fired Milwaukee police officers until their appeals were exhausted, he told the story of an officer he claimed was unfairly fired after a fender-bender.

With Republicans controlling the state Legislature and the governor’s office, the budget provision — which would have reversed a 2009 reform that had saved city taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars — seemed on the fast track for approval in June.

But Vos hadn’t done his homework.

He didn’t know the name of the officer.

“My information is from the police union. I believe what they tell me, but I have to be upfront about that,” Vos said of the union, which has often supported Republican candidates in recent elections.

The bill passed both chambers of the Legislature and was awaiting Gov. Scott Walker’s signature when the Journal Sentinel identified the officer Vos had referenced as James Morsovillo. He previously had been suspended for incidents involving domestic violence, hit-and-run and drunken driving.

The same newspaper article pointed out that fired officer Ladmarald Cates — who has since been charged with two federal felonies after a woman accused him of rape in the wake of her 911 call — also would continue to draw his salary as he pursued his appeal before the Fire and Police Commission.

The day after the story appeared, state senators and city officials asked Walker to veto the provision. Among those calling for a veto was Fire and Police Commission Executive Director Michael G. Tobin. He also wrote a letter to Vos and state Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) — who had helped write the provision and defended it on the floor — asking them to reconsider their position.

Darling reversed course and added her name to the list of officials asking Walker for a veto. She said she changed her mind after talking with Tobin.

Five days after the newspaper’s initial report about Morsovillo, Walker announced he would veto the police pay provision.

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