ASK THE CHIEF
If you have a question about police procedures, please contact us. Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Why don’t police officers have to answer questions when they’re investigated after a shooting?
This question has been posed on social media after police shootings elsewhere, so I thought I’d address it. When a law enforcement officer is suspected of misconduct, there are two potential investigations that can take place. At a minimum, there will be an internal investigation to determine if department policy was violated. Refusing to answer questions, or lying about what happened, can lead to discipline or, more likely, termination. However, because the officer was compelled to answer in violation of the 5th Amendment, the officer’s statements can’t be used in court. Any investigative leads that were developed from the officer’s statements would also be inadmissible as “fruit of the poisonous tree”. So, if the officer is suspected of not only violating department rules, but committing a crime, the criminal investigation will take priority. Under the 5th Amendment, no one can be compelled to answer questions or testify against themselves. As with any suspect, the officer cannot be forced to answer questions when under criminal investigation. And, as with any suspect, that doesn’t mean that the case will simply be closed; plenty of criminal cases are successfully proven without the suspect cooperating.
I saw an old SUV being driven without doors; is that legal?
With some exceptions, the general rule for vehicle equipment is if it was installed at the time of manufacture, it must be maintained in working condition. TRANS 305.19 states, ” Every motor vehicle, except those manufactured with removable doors or without doors, shall be equipped with doors. Open top designed vehicles are not required to have operating doors when the vehicle is operated without a top.” So, it’s likely that the vehicle you saw was not legal for street use.
Does the squad on the home page of the police department have a legal front plate display?
State law requires that any license plate that’s required to be on a vehicle must be visible. The front plates on our squads aren’t visible because the push bar and the siren speaker obscure the view. The push bar is used to move a disabled vehicle out of traffic if it’s too hazardous to wait for a tow truck. Mounting the speaker inside the engine compartment can muffle the sound; by placing it on the bar, it’s more likely to be heard by other drivers. In both cases, the equipment protects the officer and the public.
“But Chief”, the anonymous correspondent might respond, “are you saying the police are entitled to special treatment; that they’re allowed to break the law?” It’s also against the law to drive in excess of the posted speed limit, but we don’t cite people for driving 30 mph in a 25 zone. It’s against the law to have a headlight out, but we usually give the person up to 15 days to fix it. It’s illegal to park in front of Jackson Elementary during school hours, but if Mom explains she’s picking up her sick child, we’ll tell her to have a nice day. I could give many more examples when an officer uses discretion (not special treatment) instead of issuing a ticket. I think it’s just as reasonable to permit this installation.
Is it important to investigate complaints against police officers? If so, why? What would be investigation focus on? Policies, Procedures, Police Officers decision making? What would be the bigger picture for investigating such complaints?
Yes, our policy, as with most law enforcement agencies, is to investigate every complaint. In my tenure as police chief in Jackson, people have complained about procedure, an officer’s attitude, or that a citation was issued. There are specific procedures to be followed when investigating a complaint, some of which are codified in state law. The intent is to conduct a complete investigation without violating the officer’s rights. It’s important to investigate complaints to maintain the community’s confidence in the police department; determine if training and/or procedural deficiencies played a role; correct the officer’s behavior, if the complaint was justified; explain to the complainant why the officer’s actions were proper, if the complaint wasn’t justified.
Regarding procedural complaints, these are often resolved by explaining the officer’s actions. For example, someone cited for speeding was upset because the officer followed them before activating the red lights. I explained that the officer was calling-in the license plate & location to Dispatch. Several people have said officers didn’t have the right to run their license plates, which revealed they had a suspended license, so I explained that the courts have allowed that procedure. There have been a few complaints that accurately described that the officer made a mistake. For example, if an officer misinterpreted a motor vehicle law, it means an apology to the complainant; a little remedial training for the officer; and reviewing the law with the rest of the department to make sure everyone knows.
Attitude complaints… alleging that an officer was rude… are rare for us; many have been dismissed when the squad video was viewed. There are very limited circumstances in which I can intervene when a citation has been issued; usually, the person just has to plead his or her case in court.
The fact that an officer has compiled complaints is not necessarily a sign that the officer is negligent. We’re not selling shoes, after all; we often deal with people who aren’t happy that they were stopped, cited, or investigated for some reason. More active officers may generate more complaints. A complaint file had to be analyzed in its totality to consider the number of complaints; their seriousness; and whether they were sustained.
Is it legal to drive across a solid white line to change lanes?
While some states prohibit it, you can in Wisconsin… but be careful. The lines are often seen at the end of off-ramps and on-ramps to guide vehicles. Crossing the white line carelessly can equate to “unsafe lane change” or other violations
Why were “Recall Walker” people allowed to collect signatures on village property?
There’s a First Amendment right to do so, the same as others have to protest in opposition. However, this right is not absolute and those involved may not breach the peace, intimidate, or interfere with the rights of others.
Why don’t you put cops on the corners to keep traffic going on Main Street during the annual “Rummage Sale Day”?
Main Street backs up so badly because the traffic load far exceeds the road’s capacity. Think about rush hour on any urban freeway; same principle. Now, add pedestrians and parking maneuvers like we had, and it’s even worse.
In recent years we’ve twice tried using officers at the Highway P, Glen Brooke, and Jackson Drive intersections. It didn’t help and, even worse, caused traffic to back-up on the connecting side streets. With the assistance of the Department of Public Works and the Washington County Highway Department, a suggested detour for through-traffic is posted, but it’s largely ignored. Extra officers are put on-duty for this event (which isn’t sponsored by the Village of Jackson), but there’s nothing they can do about the traffic congestion.
Why would a police car be parked with its engine running, when gas is so expensive?
Yes, that does look wasteful. The problem is that the radio, laptop computer, and video camera are all drawing power. The only way to prevent the battery from being rapidly depleted is to either keep the engine running or turn it, and the equipment, off. The computer and camera take time to reboot and sign-on, and that’s a problem if the officers gets an assignment. Just like the movie, “Blues Brothers”, our squads have “cop batteries” and “cop alternators”, but that doesn’t prevent this problem or keep us from shelling out a lot of money to replace ruined batteries. That’s why you’ll sometimes see a squad locked and running.
I have a neighbor who brags that he has friends in the police department, so he feels he can do whatever he wants.
Some people claim to “have connections” to impress others and make themselves feel important. The connection could be to the police, a politician, an influential business person, or even a celebrity. However, there can be a more sinister purpose: intimidation. In this case, neighbors were afraid to call the police department when the man was having loud parties late into the evening. They believed that the man’s “friends on the police department” wouldn’t do anything, and might even retaliate against them for complaining.
There are other variations of this theme. Last year, our officers were called to a tavern fight. The victims were immediately on the defensive because they felt the “local cops” wouldn’t protect them. I don’t know why they assumed the other patrons were Jackson residents. When I worked for the sheriff’s department, I handled several incidents in which a non-resident assumed I would take the side of a “local” against an “outsider”. The “outsider vs. local” scenario might be due to many movies and television shows. There’s the cowboy who comes into a town where they “don’t cotton to strangers”. Another familiar theme: the college kids driving to Florida for Spring Break who get into trouble with a small town Southern police chief or sheriff (who inevitably says, “I run a nice clean town” while spitting tobacco juice).
It was difficult for me to convince the caller that no one should hesitate to call us for help. Even if the neighbor was a personal friend of an officer (which he isn’t) that friendship would end if it was used as the caller described. Our actions must be, and are, based on an unbiased application of the law. As Judge James Edwin Horton said in the “Scottsboro Boys” case (Alabama, 1933), “We have only to do our duty without fear or favor”.
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Why are police officers doing tavern checks?
Is it true that you force bartenders to take breath tests? Is it true that officers have told patrons they’ve had too much to drink? Is it true that squads sit in tavern parking lots?
Having an officer make brief visits to taverns is a common, very routine practice by municipal police departments. Slinger, Hartford, Germantown, West Bend, and Kewaskum police have been doing tavern checks for years. Before we started doing tavern checks here, I personally told each tavern owner what was going to happen. Each was told that their bar was not being singled out, and that Jackson was the only department that hadn’t been doing them.
The village has an ordinance that requires anyone who serves alcohol to be sober. Servers can drink, but can’t be intoxicated. An officer with probable cause can request a server to blow into a portable breath tester. The server can’t be forced to take the test, but the refusal can be considered when the person’s license is up for renewal. Only one such test has been requested of a bartender.
It’s against state law to serve alcohol to an intoxicated person. A bartender isn’t a “human Breathalyzer”, so the intent of the law is focused on situations where an obviously intoxicated person continues to be served. An officer will take note if a patron is heavily impaired for two reasons. First, it’s a sign that over-service has taken place. More importantly, the patron may be unable to care for himself and needs assistance. It’s conceivable, and expected, that the officer would intervene.
Police officers in all communities routinely check license plates to see if the registered owner has a valid license, is wanted or is on probation. Jackson officers have arrested several probation violators after their vehicles were seen parked at a tavern (many people on probation are not allowed to consume alcohol or be in taverns), as well as persons wanted on warrants. This is not an indictment of the particular tavern, since the owners can’t control who comes into their establishments. Police patrol tavern parking lots as part of their regular duties. They also check the Comfort Inn parking lot, the village parks, the industrial parks, etc.
Can police stop a vehicle without a reason?
I know someone who was stopped because the car was registered to his brother, who’s suspended. The driver didn’t do anything wrong, though. I thought the police needed a reason to stop a vehicle.
The doctrine in the State of Wisconsin is that a vehicle can be stopped when a computer check indicates that the registered owner doesn’t have a valid license or is wanted. The only exception is when it’s obvious that the person driving couldn’t be that person, such as a female driver when the registered owner is a male. Occasionally, an officer will stop a vehicle only to discover that the driver is, indeed, someone else. We understand that this can be upsetting for the innocent driver, and the officers are pretty diligent about explaining why the stop occurred. We’ve located many suspended or revoked drivers, as well as wanted persons, doing this. It’s become standard practice at all departments.
Why does Jackson have so many officers?
In 2010, the Police Department budget was cut $100,000, resulting in the loss of a sworn position. The department has 11 sworn officers serving a population of 6,700 people. That calculates to 1.6 officers per 1,000 residents. Area communities have these ratios:
Higher density communities favor more officers for their population. For example, Jackson has around 2,200 residents per square mile. The villages of Germantown and Richfield (patrolled part-time by the Sheriff’s Department), which are former rural townships, have only 530 and 288 residents per square mile, respectively. As shown above, Jackson has the fewest officers for its population among the “urbanized” municipalities.
I’ve heard this question many times since I came to Jackson. In smaller communities, there’s an assumption that “nothing ever happens”. The fact is that every community has its share of people who won’t live by society’s rules of behavior, from the aggravating to the more serious. I publish the Notable Incidents every month to illustrate the variety of situations we encounter.
I live in the Town of Jackson. Why wouldn’t you send an officer to my house when I called?
Because your law enforcement services are provided by the Washington County Sheriff’s Office. The VILLAGE of Jackson Police Department has no jurisdiction in the TOWN of Jackson, unless the Sheriff asks us to assist.
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Why don’t police always use lights and sirens?
I saw two police cars operating with their emergency lights on but no sirens. I thought both had to be used. Several years ago, state law was changed to allow an emergency response without the lights and/or siren while responding to a possible felony. The exemption applies if using them could endanger the safety of a victim or other person; cause the suspect to evade apprehension; cause the suspect to destroy evidence; or cause the suspect to cease commission of the crime before the officer obtains sufficient evidence for an arrest. The most common examples in Jackson are when officers are responding to a hold-up, burglary, or panic alarm. Sirens, and then lights, are extinguished as they approach the scene. Officers must still operate their squads “with due regard for the safety of all persons”.
Is it really against the law to drive without your shoes on?
No. As far as the motor vehicle code is concerned, you don’t even need to be dressed (but don’t try that since it would be against the law).
What does “local traffic only” mean when a road is closed?
According to the Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices, “local traffic” means traffic originating within, or having a destination on, the portion of roadway that’s closed to through traffic. Another way to put it is “trips that begin or end within the closed area”. Local traffic doesn’t mean that you live nearby or in the same community.
Can you drive without your license physically with you?
An officer is able to check your license status via computer. However, the officer may be suspicious because some revoked or suspended drivers will provide another person’s name and birth date. This can’t easily be done when the photo driver’s license is present. This will get really dicey if you’re driving someone else’s vehicle. You can be cited for not having the license with you.
Does your department unlock car doors?
Yes…. and at no charge.
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Why do officers ticket cars during the Village-wide rummage sale?
Your officers were handing out parking tickets during the village-wide rummage sale. That wasn’t a very friendly thing to do, considering the village invited us.
The rummage sale is not sponsored by the village of Jackson. However, the village certainly realizes that it’s something that many residents and visitors look forward to every summer. The police department and the sponsor work together on such tasks as covering the No Parking signs on Main Street, putting out cones to keep some areas free of vehicles, and using the Highway Department’s sign board to encourage through-traffic to bypass the village to relieve some of the congestion. We also expend overtime funds for extra officers, due to the crush of vehicles and pedestrians.
However, this is still a community,not an amusement park for the enjoyment of rummage sale patrons. Many residents don’t participate; they expect the courtesy of not having their driveways blocked. Intersections and narrow streets must be kept opened for rescue and fire equipment. Fire hydrants must not be blocked, nor should people drive on the wrong side of the street to grab a parking space. These are matters of common sense, courtesy and, yes, the law.
I wanted help from the police to get property back from someone, but I was told it was a civil matter.
Unless it’s a theft, we can not intervene when two parties have a dispute over ownership of property. Sometimes, we will stand-by and keep the peace when one person asks another for the property back. If the person refuses, the complainant must go to small claims court.
The Village Incidents section always includes a lot of arrests for driving while suspended or revoked. Just how common is this problem and what are you doing about it?
Let me put it this way: make sure you have excellent uninsured motorists coverage on your insurance policy. DOT reports there are more than 50,000 revoked or suspended licenses out there. There are thousands more who are driving without a license of any kind, and haven’t been caught yet. These people don’t have insurance, so they have no financial resources if they crash into you. There’s a good chance of that happening, since their bad driving was the reason they lost their license in the first place. All we can do is continue to arrest them. The legislature doesn’t have the will or desire to confront this issue, and even if we could put them in jail (which isn’t allowed for most of these case), the jails aren’t big enough to hold all of these people.
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Why do you ticket cars that are parked on the street on winter nights?
The village code has, for many years, prohibited parking from December 1 to April 1, 2:00AM-6:00AM. The Department of Public Works can plow snow much faster without vehicles parked on the street. As the village has grown, there are more “street miles” to plow, making this even more important. The police department issues hundreds of courtesy warnings a week before the ban takes effect. After December 1, a $10 ticket is issued.
I got arrested, and my name was in the newspaper. How do I keep that a secret?
You can’t, and in most cases neither can we. Under state law, our incident reports are considered open to the public. There are exceptions, including reports that name juveniles, cases that remain under investigation, or if there is reason to believe that releasing the report would endanger a victim, witness, or informant. You may have noticed that the media carry news about juvenile offenders; the courts have allowed access to reporters with the understanding that identities can not be revealed.
Why do I see squads on Highway 45? Shouldn’t they be in the village?
Highway 45 is in the village, but I understand what you’re getting at: it’s removed from the residential and commercial “heart” of Jackson proper.
Officers can choose to engage in traffic enforcement on Highway 45 for no more than an hour per shift. This permits a “change of pace” for the officer, allows a reasonable presence on the highway within our village limits, and supplements the presence of the state patrol and county sheriff. Sometimes an officer has stopped a vehicle that committed a violation on Main Street (Highway 60).
It’s important to note, however, that a Jackson officer is often on the highway at the request of another law enforcement agency. Several times a week, we’re asked to monitor the highway for a suspected drunk driver, a gas drive-off, shoplifting, or other vehicle that needs to be intercepted. These requests come from the county sheriff and surrounding police departments. We make similar requests of those agencies.
While some people question our presence on the highway, we also receive positive comments from drivers who are sick of being “blown off the road” by speeders.
What’s With The Black Gloves?
A village resident was upset that an officer put on black leather gloves before arresting her son for outstanding warrants; this seemed to be a threatening gesture.
Some officers are wary of searching suspects without hand protection because of the risks of disease (hepatitis, HIV, TB) or being stuck by a sharp object such as a drug needle. They will don a pair of thin leather gloves, sometimes lined with Kevlar to prevent needle sticks. These should not be confused with “sap gloves”, which contain powdered lead and are banned by police departments.
Our officers may not wear leather gloves routinely; they are put on in anticipation of a search, arrest, or other physical contact.
Can someone under 21 drink NA beer?
Yes…. but. First of all, no one under the age of 21 can drink “light” alcohol beverages. A true NON-alcoholic beer has wording on the label that it contains less than 1/2% of alcohol by volume. That verbiage refers to federal guidelines- adopted by most states- that such a beverage isn’t considered an alcohol drink. You would need to drink at least 12 cans in an hour to accumulate enough alcohol to reach the .08 threshold. Thus, it is legal in Wisconsin for anyone to purchase, possess and consume it.
Now here are the “buts”. Persons under 21 are covered by the absolute sobriety law. There is still enough alcohol in a NA beer to be detected by a field screening device. If you are under 21, drank NA beer, drove, and then were stopped by the police, you could be arrested. Also, there is some evidence that suggests that drinking NA beer can lead to more serious alcohol consumption, and associated problems, later.
Also, although the sale of NA beer is not restricted, some retailers may still refuse to sell it to underage people. That’s their decision.
In conclusion, if you’re under 21 you can drink non-alcoholic beer (as defined above) as long as you do not drive while the alcohol is still in your system.
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On television, the police always read the suspect his rights as he’s being handcuffed and taken away. But a friend of mine says that when he was stopped and arrested for drunk driving, he wasn’t read his rights.
Ever since the Supreme Court crafted the Miranda warning in 1966, television programs have used it to add a little spice to their dramas. It’s also confused millions of viewers.
The Miranda rights- the “you have the right to remain silent…” routine- are warnings that must be given when a person is in custody for a criminal offense and before the officer asks questions. When a TV detective handcuffs the bad guy and reads the Miranda rights as he’s hauled away, it’s drama. In real life, it isn’t necessary to read Miranda until the arrested suspect is about to be questioned. That’s why it’s called a pre-interrogation warning.
What about the person who is stopped on suspicion of drunk driving?
The officer will ask the driver various questions to establish how much the person has had to drink, where the person is coming from, how much sleep the person had, etc. The officer may ask the person to perform field sobriety tests, including blowing into a portable testing device. All of these things can incriminate the driver, so you might think Miranda should be given. However, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that such a situation is a “roadside interrogation” in which the person is not in custody and doesn’t have to be Mirandized. Once the driver is arrested, however, the questioning must stop until Miranda is read, and only then if the driver waives the right to remain silent.
The warning is named for Ernesto Miranda, who was arrested for the rape of a teenage girl in Phoenix. Miranda confessed after being interrogated for two hours. His conviction was thrown out when the Supreme Court ruled that he should have been advised that he had the right to remain silent, that any statements he made could be used against him, and that he had the right to an attorney even if he couldn’t afford one. Miranda was scheduled for a new trial, but he angered his girlfriend during a child custody dispute and she revealed that Miranda confessed the rape to her. Ernesto stayed in prison for 14 years. Four years after he was released, Miranda was killed in a barroom brawl. The killer was given his Miranda rights.
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