Awhile ago, Wauwatosa Patch asked the ranking Wauwatosa police officer in charge of operations to reflect on whether anything stood out in the past year in policing our city, and to get back to us.
Were there any crime trends, upturns, downturns, unusual cases – anything that had raised his eyebrows?
“I’ve given this some thought,” Capt. Jeff Sutter said. “In terms of crime-fighting, I’d have to say it was business as usual. Some bad people did some bad things, and we caught a lot of them.
“There’s only one area that stands out, and I hate to even bring it up: Politics.
“With the partisanship in the state government, on both sides, we got caught in the middle.
“And when there are protest rallies – we’re involved. We’ve never had to expend resources before like we have the past year on politics.”
State politics hits home in Tosa
Second perhaps only to Madison, Wauwatosa, home to Gov. Scott Walker, became a focal point for political speech.
So much so that Wauwatosa Police Chief Barry Weber has called for an ordinance change, to be voted on Tuesday night by the Common Council, to give him the authority to review and possibly deny permit requests for events that would require a expanded police presence if the organizers cannot demonstrate an ability to pay for it.
As a check on that authority, the ordinance includes an appeal process allowing the Common Council to overrule him.
The ordinance change is intended not to stifle political expression, Weber and City Attorney Alan Kesner said, but rather to determine when and whether the Police Department should be expected to pay for keeping the peace out of its limited overtime budget.
“It costs money,” Sutter said. “Big chunks of it.
“You have to be prepared for things to go south. Our department is not set up to throw a lot of people off our regular patrol and policing duties in the community for something like this. We have to plan for the worst even if it doesn’t happen.
“So we have to call in people and expend overtime. It eats up money.”
Police have to live on a budget
In his request to the council, Weber focused on the rally on Jan. 21, which cost the department $3,100 in overtime.
But that was not the only instance, by any means.
On Feb. 15, 2011, a rally against Gov. Scott Walker’s policies, centered on his private home on North 68th Street, caught the community by surprise, and police had to handle the affair “on shift” – costing no overtime but alarming commanders because of what might have happened had things “gone south.”
Ten days later, on Feb. 25, anti-Walker forces held a protest on highway overpasses. This time police had wind of it and expended $820 in overtime.
In March, more than 100 people showed up at City Hall to protest ratification of city contracts with its unions. Council members denied the contracts. No police overtime was expended then, but when the issue was scheduled to be brought back to the floor on April 19, it was clear that an even larger crowd might develop.
It did, with , and police spent $1,800 in overtime to protect the seat of city government.
After a quiet summer, in his home block on 68th Street. This time, police were alerted in advance, and so was the media, raising the possibility of counter-protesting. A police presence was deemed necessary, and the cost in overtime was $3,500.
In all, those rallies and protests cost less than $10,000, but that was on top of all other overtime the expects and plans for. None of it could have been predicted, and so all of it was unexpected and unbudgeted.
Keeping the peace, prepared for the worst
The fact that no arrests were made at any of the events does not change the way police see it.
Just before the Celebrate Walker rally at the Rotary Performance Pavilion, police Sgt. James Mastrocola told Patch that, “It isn’t the people holding the event. They’re 100 percent there for the same reason. And it isn’t 99 percent of any of the people who might be counter-protesting that event – they’re just having their say.
“But one or two people can start something, and it can get out of hand in a hurry. Our job is to keep the peace, so we have to be there.”
Almost as if Mastrocola had predicted it, just such a situation did develop at the pro-Walker rally on Jan. 21. Two anti-Walker protesters entered the rally surreptitiously and, in the middle of a speech, unfurled a banner in front of the stage that seemed to accuse the Walker administration of racism.
Surrounded by hundreds of their ideological opposites, they were almost asking for a fight, but they didn’t get it. Nonpartisan private security guards hired by the event organizers moved in to escort the two out.
Even then, things could have exploded, as one of the anti-Walker protesters who had charged racism in turn hurled a racial slur at a security guard who happened to be African-American.
Invective aimed at police in line of duty
Such ironies were not limited to organized events. Police lived with them every day, any day.
“The thing that stands out to me is how bitter the average person became,” Capt. Sutter said. “The officers on the street were subjected to just vehement abuse.
“I can’t tell you how many phone calls I fielded from both sides. And it didn’t matter what you said to either side – you were the bad guy. Either we were the union guys, or we were the union guys who were exempted (from collective bargaining restrictions).
“The height of it for me had to be the day we were in a tactical situation – an armed subject in a standoff – and there was myself, the chief, the SWAT commander and a tactical officer, and we were bent over a map on the hood of a car.
“Never mind that none of us is a member of the union – we get a citizen yelling at us, calling us ‘Union thugs standing around wasting the taxpayers’ money!’
"Direct quote. Right at the height of it.
“We’re not accustomed to Joe Blow Wauwatosa citizen talking to us that way. It didn’t matter what you told them, or explaining the law, either.
“This was not our usual customer.”