Disciplinary actions against police officers in Wisconsin’s largest cities, whether for use of force or anything else, are rare
Disciplinary actions against police officers in Wisconsin’s largest cities, whether for use of force or anything else, are rare. In 2017, for instance, there were 61 disciplinary actions filed against 2,470 Milwaukee Police Department staff members, approximately one-fourth of whom were civilians — a rate of 2.5%.
In Madison in 2019, there were only seven disciplinary actions in a department with a head count of 650, more than 480 of whom were sworn and the rest civilian — a rate of 1.1%.
But when allegations of inappropriate force do occur or there is any other misconduct, police officers must be held accountable as fairly, quickly, transparently and definitively as possible in order to retain both the trust of the community and the confidence of all officers who serve within the ranks.
The Badger Institute surveyed an array of Wisconsin police departments to understand the processes used to discipline officers and ensure due process, then looked more extensively at Madison and Milwaukee. Many departments in the state are not transparent regarding discipline — a significant issue.
What we found in Madison and Milwaukee is a tale of two departments — one (Madison) that is laudably transparent regarding instances of discipline and one (Milwaukee) that is not. Lack of transparency leads to community distrust, especially since most departments have disciplinary processes that are redundant or do not encourage swift and decisive action.
We recommend several changes that legislators can make to assure Wisconsin communities that all officers are committed to protecting their fellow citizens, including better transparency, extension of Act 10 to police, elimination of arbitration and extension of probationary periods.
Police officers who are disciplined have due process and appeal rights that are guaranteed by police department policy and various state statutes, including the right to appeal to police and fire commissions. Those guarantees must remain or, in some instances, be expanded if other avenues of appeal are eliminated.