The State Supreme Court on Tuesday recognized something the city's Fire and Police Commission did not --the commission should try to help people when they have concerns about police conduct, not try to stop them from filing a complaint.
The court, in a case stemming out of the unnecessary and overly-aggressive raid of an El Rey grocery store back in 2002, said the commission's rules made it unnecessarily difficult to file a complaint alleging police misconduct and was too restrictive about who is allowed to file a complaint.
The court also ruled that the one section of the commission rule, which requires the complainant to state the "name, badge number or other identification of the accused member(s)" is invalid. It frustrates legislative intent when it does not account for situations, such as the El Rey police raid, where the complainant alleges that the members deliberately concealed their identities. The language may deter complainants from filing a complaint because they do not know the identity of the accused member.
Was Frank Jude really supposed to write down names and badge numbers when they were beating the crap out of him?
Perhaps the biggest bang in the ruling, though, is the finding that the commission should not refer complaints to the Police Department for investigation unless the commission dismisses the complaint on legal grounds. The commission has found it ever so much more convenient to refer some complaints to the police for investigation.
Yes, the police investigating the police. Even under the best of circumstances, that does not seem to be a set-up designed to win the confidence of the public.
Under the commission's current rules, the Board has conducted only four trials, has imposed no discipline in 491 complaints since 1998, and has conducted no trials since 2001. Although parts of the Rule are plainly defective, the court is hard pressed to rally to its defense in the face of these statistics.
The Supreme Court made the right ruling. It's just too bad that the City of Milwaukee needed the court to tell it to do what is so obviously necessary to ensure that citizens get justice.
The city and its Fire and Police Commission need to rewrite its rules. It would behoove the public to keep a close eye on the process and make sure efficiency in disposition of cases doesn't trump justice this time.