On Rumors

Whitewater is a small town, with a population under fifteen thousand, approximately half of whom are college students. One of the advantages of being far smaller than Los Angeles or Atlanta should be the ease with which municipal leaders and law enforcement can meet and talk to residents. A person of average health and energy could walk the town easily, talking with residents along the way.

How odd, then to hear some city’s officials bemoaning rumors about possible federal law enforcement actions. If there are rumors among residents, city officials have only themselves to blame: if they were closer to their own residents, and even partly knowledgeable about those residents’ day-to-day experiences, they’d have a better ability to manage these matters.

Ice cream socials at a senior citizen facility (honest to goodness – the softest audience on the planet) are not enough. Admittedly, officials burn very few calories driving to a retirement home, sitting & talking, but that energy savings is an underuse of a taxpayer-funded salary.

If it should be true that “the rumors have truly been disheartening and harmful,” then it’s time for officials to work harder – connecting through true community-based enforcement – to dispel what so disheartens and hurts. All the servile commission cronies in the world, and their conniving boosters, can’t do what publicly-paid officials should be doing each day.

After so very long, after over twenty-six years, one should have expected better results than this. But people choose variously well or poorly, and Whitewater has so many times chosen poorly, and consigned herself to a weak, short-sighted, addled leadership. She’ll stay stagnant, and so decline relatively, until she chooses another course.

In the meantime, these failings may yet prove a useful lesson to other communities, so that they might avoid the same mistakes.

The Politics of Informants at UW-Whitewater

In a well-ordered community, there should be an accord between good policy and good politics. That’s not yet Whitewater, and this post will address the political implications of using confidential informants. 

(For a review of policy, please see yesterday’s How Rural Wisconsin Campuses Coerce Students into Becoming Drug Informants.)

1. Police Leadership.  There’s almost no chance that middle-aged police leaders (Chief Kiederlen at UW-Whitewater, Chief Otterbacher in Whitewater) will change their policies on the use of young confidential informants.  They were trained this way, brought up through the ranks this way, and are supported this way from like-minded police leaders nearby.

They’re sure that they’re right, and the risks don’t mean much to them.  (Kiederlen: “To me, it’s a positive all the way around.”

It doesn’t matter that it’s shallow thinking; they’ve the support from law-enforcement leaders of the same ilk.  There are also those in town who are concerned about a solution to drug use, and will latch onto any proposal (even one like this). 

Needless to say, it’s not community policing that Chief Kiedelen’s pushing.

2.  University Leadership.  Chancellor Telfer may have introduced Chief Kiederlen to a Common Council meeting, but that’s all Chancellor Telfer did – provide an introduction.  Chief Kiederlen did all the substantive talking.  (From the video, Telfer introduces Kiederlen from 7:10 to 8:00, and Kiederlen speaks from 8:00 to 13:00.)

This isn’t a chancellor who’ll take a strong stand; he’s available for happy news.  For more severe policies or bad news, it’s either the public-relations official or a subordinate. 

(Funny that – in the video above, Chancellor Telfer introduces Chief Kiederlen as a ‘colleague,’ not a subordinate, a highly-detailed UW-Whitewater organizational chart notwithstanding.) 

3.  The Difference of Four Years’ Time.   Four years ago, when I criticized then-Chief Coan’s use of confidential informants through the city police force, the Gazette published an editorial urging readers to ignore the criticism that so many leveled against confidential informants in the comments section of that paper. 

Just four years later, the Gazette has published this story by Sean Kirkby online at its mainpage, from the highly-regarded Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism, that detailed the risks of the very practice that many criticized and that the Gazette once asked readers to ignore. 

4. Where This Story About Informants at UW-Whitewater is Playing.  It’s receiving coverage statewide, including in newspapers from the Gannett chain in Wisconsin.  This is not a Whitewater story, it’s a statewide story that’s chiefly about Whitewater’s campus. 

To readers outside Whitewater, the story shows the university in a Draconian light, as an outlier even among UW System schools. 

That’s a mess: coverage in so many papers – politically moderate ones – is a fortune in (sadly adverse) publicity.  Chancellor Telfer could announce dozens of supposed accomplishments locally (many of which are hollow), but that positive press would be nothing compared with the critical coverage UW-Whitewater is getting statewide. 

Worse, it’s coverage in places where UW-Whitewater should be competing for successful, talented applicants.  What will parents of competitive students see?  They’ll see either a school with too much drug use or a school that handles drug use in an overly severe way. 

There’s now an incentive to encourage their children (strong applicants who could go elsewhere) actually to look and to go elsewhere.

5.  Getting the Wider World Wrong.  It’s funny to refer to the rest of Wisconsin as the wider world, but that’s how it must seem from some local insiders’ perspectives. 

Did no one at UW-Whitewater see – especially after Chief Kiederlen’s too-rigid presentation to Council – that someone would at least have to offer him media training?  Chancellor Telfer holds a doctorate, but somehow he didn’t see or didn’t want to state the obvious: Kiederlen was unready for an interview on this topic.

(Internally, employees at UW-Whitewater may even offer reassurance that the interview went well, but a good number of them undoubtedly know that’s not true.  They’re probably relieved, if anything, that they weren’t interviewed, themselves.)  

All the talk about how sophisticated these administrators at the university are, how successful and trend-setting they are, but the truth comes as critical news and a downmarket image. 

These few seem to want a positive image even over actual achievement, but they just can’t see what that truly requires. People beyond the city just won’t accept at face value declarations of stupendous successes and gargantuan greatness. 

Chief Matt Kiederlen probably wouldn’t believe it (least of all from me), but his employer allowed him to go into an interview ill-prepared.  The policy’s misshapen, but he wasn’t properly prepped to present it, whatever its dimensions. 

These policies will linger, and so the politics of them will continue to bring outside criticism, under a university administration that fails at marketing even as it holds marketing in such very high esteem. 

How Rural Wisconsin Campuses Coerce Students into Becoming Drug Informants

Update: Here’s a post that I originally published this morning at a sister site, Daily Adams.

The first paragraph is a description of the city for readers who may not be familiar with Whitewater (so it will sound a bit awkward to those who live in town).

Thanks much to a sharp reader who pointed out that the post’s description of Whitewater needed an explanation for readers already familiar with our city – this post was intended for an audience both inside and outside the city (but I didn’t make that clear enough, initially).

Tomorrow, I will have a follow-up post on this topic, at FREE WHITEWATER, with some local political implications of the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism’s stories about student drug informants.

Here’s the original post —

I live and blog from Whitewater, Wisconsin, a small rural town with a UW System campus. The city proper has a population of just under fifteen-thousand, and the campus is easily the largest institution in Whitewater (with about twelve-thousand students).  At sister site FREE WHITEWATER, I write about my town’s politics, economy, and culture. 

Over the years, I’ve criticized the Whitewater Police Department’s use of confidential informants: young people bear the risks of middle-aged drug warriors’ ambitions.  See, from 2010, about the City of Whitewater’s former police chief, Jim Coan, The Utter Foolishness of Jim Coan’s Prohibition

It’s with interest that I’ve awaited a story about the use of confidential college-student informants at UW-Whitewater.  There’s been talk about the story, and it’s now out, from the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism. 

Sean Kirkby’s detailed story, Undercover students used in drug busts at some University of Wisconsin campuses, is thorough in its coverage, revealing in its reporting, and all of it well-written. 

I’d urge readers to review the entire story, as well as a companion story, Drug crime penalties are ‘huge’ for students.

A few highlights, below:

Use of informants is favored in Whitewater:

A member of the Walworth County Drug Unit, which arrested Butler, declined comment on whether the unit still uses students as informants. But UW-Whitewater Police Chief Matt Kiederlen says his department has used about 20 students as confidential informants during the past two years….

In all, the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism communicated with 10 current and former UW-Whitewater students who were arrested by either the UW-Whitewater police or the Walworth County Drug Unit for selling drugs to confidential informants or possessing marijuana.

Nine were asked to become an informant. All but the unnamed student described earlier refused either because of safety concerns, not knowing other dealers or not wanting to turn in their friends.

A contradictory standard on students’ decision-making.  UW-Whitewater Police Chief Matt Kiederlen holds out a standard of decision-making that his own campus’s policies refute.  Here’s Kiederlen on students as adults:

“They’re no different from anyone else,” Kiederlen says. “Mom and dad tend to feel like they’re still in school, but the reality is that they’re adults and they’re making adult decisions. And there are adult consequences.”

Of course, they are still in school; someone should ask Kiederlen to look out his window. 

It’s obvious – from Kirkby’s story – that UW-Whitewater does treat students differently from older adults making adult decisions, as it uses game-like playing cards to explain policies to students:

image
Photo credit: Sean Kirkby / Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism

Needless to say, that’s not a common way for middle-aged adults to receive information. 

Let’s be clear: Part of Kiederlen’s career rests on a middle-aged man intimidating much younger people into compliance with his drug-enforcement plans.  He’s not a middle-aged man among middle-aged men, working in an environment of equals. 

Kiederlen’s enforcement involves pressuring much younger and less experienced people. 

There’s risk in middle-aged men coercing much younger people into drug snares:

While becoming a confidential informant may help students avoid consequences, undercover operations can turn deadly.

Rachel Hoffman, a 23-year-old Florida State University graduate, was pressured in 2008 to be an informant after Tallahassee, Florida, police searched her apartment and found a small amount of marijuana and ecstasy. But the buy turned out to be an armed robbery, and the robbers killed Hoffman after discovering her recording device, says Lance Block, a Florida attorney.

Block, who represented Hoffman’s parents in a lawsuit following their daughter’s murder, authored a 2009 Florida law that regulates informant use, a practice he says contradicts law enforcement’s purpose.

“The police are supposed to protect us from harm, not subject us to harm,” Block says. “And when law enforcement intentionally expose untrained civilians into these highly dangerous operations, they’re not protecting them from harm … It’s one thing to get information from people secretly and confidentially. It’s another thing to throw them to the wolves, like they did with Rachel.”

If, after all, Kiederlen thinks he’s in the same adult position as, for example, a twenty-three-year-old woman, then he’s either obtuse or confused. 

‘Unknowns’.  Here’s Kiederlen on the risks:

“They [informants] are set up in such a way that if something is bad, they know what they can do to make themselves as safe as possible,” Kiederlen says. “We’re dealing with the drug world. It is unpredictable. We try with everything we have to predict putting them in the safest position we can, but there are always those unknowns.”

These ‘drug world’ risks are, after all, risks that Kiederlen and his force recreate.  It’s ‘safe as possible’ with the self-exculpatory, almost blithe observation that ‘there are always those unknowns.’

If Kiederlen wanted to sound shallow and indifferent, he’s succeeded. 

Kiederlen’s Presentation.  To get a sense of how Chief Kiederlen presents himself, embedded below is a clip from a City of Whitewater Council meeting where he spoke about his ‘personal philosophy.’ 

Readers will find this portion of the meeting from 7:10  to 13:00 on the video below. (UW-Whitewater Chancellor Richard Telfer introduces Kiederlen from 7:10 to 8:00, and Chief Kiederlen speaks from 8:00 to 13:00.)


Common Council Meeting 05/21/2013
from Whitewater Community TV
on Vimeo

Watching the segment yet again, I’m struck by how tense Chief Kiederlen’s presentation is; his manner appears about as tightly wound as anyone who’s spoken at a town meeting in years. 

And here we are, in rural America, where the drug war slowly, but too slowly, sputters out for lack of sense and reflection. 

Posted earlier @ Daily Adams.

Lack of Diligence, Front and Center

In the fall, during the 11.6.13 Whitewater’s Police and Fire Commission meeting, the PFC’s chairperson introduced a draft code of ethics and drafts of procedures for complaints and interviewing candidates for employment or promotion.  

I wrote about that meeting afterward, because the drafts were poorly written, and in the case of the procedures for complaints often ill-considered and seemingly slapdash in design.  See, following that meeting, Policies for the Police and Fire Commission.    

With a week to consider the poor-quality drafts, and the opportunity to make much-needed corrections, what did the Police and Fire Commission do when it reconvened on 11.14.13?   

Four of the five members considered an oath, a commissioner’s code of ethics, procedures for a complaint process, and for a hiring process (one left early for another commitment).  

If all commissioners cannot attend, on significant issues, then the meeting should be postponed.  If that’s too hard, commissioners with conflicts should quit the PFC, thereby affording themselves more time for those other matters of greater interest. 

Watch the video, if you’d like, beginning at 1:21 in the recording, and be embarrassed:

There are (1) mistakes even in the draft for final review, (2) it’s obvious that some members of the commission have not reviewed the documents beforehand, (3) the commission chairperson, Jan Bilgen, isn’t even sure if existing commissioners will have to take the new commissioner’s oath the PFC has just approved, and (4) that same chairperson has to wait for someone to reprint new copies of the documents that were meant for final review, as she notices during the meeting that they’re incorrectly formatted.

The topics that the commissioners discuss at more than a few words – of all the issues of oath, ethics, complaints and hiring processes – are remarking on typos they’ve not noticed before, wondering about the time interviews might take (laughably struggling over what ‘as soon as possible’ means, pondering if that’s one day or perhaps – wait for it – two days’ time), or asking for definitions at the meeting that they should have researched beforehand.

There is one exception – beginning at about 18:51 into the video they address complaints against command staff, and later appeal rights to Common Council, and it’s obvious that even the draftswoman of the process doesn’t understand her draft or the issues involved.  

These processes should have been read well in advance, rather than at the last moment, during the meeting itself.  If that’s the best one can do, one’s ill-serving this community. There’s no honorable service from sloth.

Small wonder that PFC chairperson Bilgen once argued against televised PFC meetings – she’s out of her depth, often unsure, guessing about what might happen, occasionally laughing nervously as the commission stumbles along.  

Whitewater’s police leadership needs all the competent oversight it can get, but it’s an understatement to say it’s not getting it from this PFC.

27th Annual Wisconsin Troopers’ Association Art & Essay Contest

The 27th Annual Wisconsin Troopers’ Art & Essay Contest is accepting entries through February 15th.

I have included the contest rules and an entry form immediately below. The forms are available for downloading and printing.

Best of luck to all contestants.

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Policies for the Police and Fire Commission

Whitewater’s Police and Fire Commission meets tonight at 5:30 PM, to interview patrol officers and consider several policy documents. Those documents appear below, and at the bottom of this post readers will find the video recording of last week’s PFC meeting.

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There are five processes or documents to be considered tonight:

(1)  PFC Oath 
(2)  Code of Ethics
(3)  Commissioner Responsibilities and Expectations
(4)  Complaint Process Overview
(5)  Hiring Process and Commission Involvement Policy

Here are a few things to consider, in no particular order.

To his credit, the Common Council member of the PFC – who occupies a different political status in the city by being elected to Council – was the only one from the 11.6.13 meeting who posed meaningful questions of conflicts of interest or of the draft complaint process.   

Code of Ethics.  I’m not sure who wrote the draft Code of Ethics.  Last week’s PFC discussion leaves the actual authorship vague.

(That is, I’m not sure who wrote it, not who typed it.  I’m referring the actual composition, not the word-processing of it.  Writing is a leadership responsibility, not a clerical matter.)

In any event, it’s written in a poor, occasionally substandard English.  Any document may have a few typos, but this draft is littered with errors of subject-verb agreement, misuse of simple words or misspellings, and beyond all that a flowery, rambling prose.  

No one is expecting Augustan English, so to speak, but one should at least have a PFC code up to the standards of our high-school graduates.  This isn’t.  

Beyond the composition, there’s a different point, that’s truly substantive, rather than stylistic: the use of the word stakeholder in the first paragraph (‘Personal Integrity’): “…in order to inspire trust among our stakeholders…”

It’s true that I don’t like the term, and have said as much before, but my objection here is more than rhetorical: the legal obligation is to residents, to citizens, to department employees, but not to some ill-defined group through a buzz-word term that sounds impressive until one realizes that it’s empty. 

‘Stakeholder’ is just an attempt to appear profound and comprehensive without comprehending that for a code, as for good law itself, only concrete and plain terms should be used.  The use here isn’t impressive, but deficient by ambiguity.

Hiring.  The drafts maintain the current and inadequate process of having a “Command Staff” official sit in on the interviews.  I’ve criticized this practice before.  See, along these lines, Police and Fire Commission Interviewing.

Funny, truly.  The department’s leadership in this small, rural town uses the sadly trendy term “Command Staff” to refer to itself, yet it’s so insecure that it dare not let citizens appointed for oversight sit with candidates in a room by themselves.  One would think that a true command staff (think Gen. MacArthur, not anyone in Whitewater) wouldn’t be so insecure over hiring in a town of about fifteen-thousand.       

Complaints Process.  Here one finds the truly absurd and ill-considered work of the author of the complaints process against a commissioner.  

Under the Wisconsin law, itself, the PFC has oversight over the chief of police and the department.  Yet, astonishingly, the complaints process against a commissioner-overseer of the department and chief is assigned to that very chief:

Complaint Against Commissioner.  The same process is used for any complaint.  The complaint [sic] forwarded to the Chief of Police.  If the Chief of Police believes the complaint has merit and violates the intent and meaning of the Commission, the complaint is forwarded to the City Manager and the Police Commission president for review.

This method assures that the police chief will act as interpreter and gatekeeper of the complaints process against a commissioner, even though it is the commission’s principal duty to oversee the police chief and department.  

The incentive for deals, arrangements, and protection of some (and claims against others) based on favoritism is inescapable in this circular arrangement.

Worse, even if there were no deals, it presents the appearance of a conflict of interest – and avoidance of conflicts is the avoidance of both substance and appearance.    

It’s ironic that the president of the PFC, Jan Bilgen, is also on Whitewater’s Ethics Committee, yet seemingly fails to grasp this simple principle.  Had the PFC president understood half of this, the provision would not have been – as it should not have been – even in the draft process.  

That others may have reviewed this provision before the 11.6.13 meeting and let it pass is simply embarrassing.  

For an example of a public body that faced a complaint against one of its members and took the right course of using an independent attorney to conduct the investigation, see School District Investigation Finds Board Member Violated Policies.  

Public integrity is more than a florid litany of what one declares about oneself – it’s the expectation that public officials will, in serious matters, submit to independent and impartial review.  

That’s not what’s present in this draft; Whitewater deserves better than something transparently inadequate.  

Police & Fire Commission 11/06/2013 from Whitewater Community TV on Vimeo.

Police and Fire Commission Meeting for 11.6.13

There’s a Police and Fire Commission meeting tonight, at 6 PM. The PFC meets quarterly, but will meet twice this month, both tonight and (according to tonight’s agenda) again on Thursday, November 14th.

There are three main parts of tonight’s meeting: (1) election for two PFC offices (a vice president and a secretary), (2) a presentation – but apparently not discussion until next week – of draft PFC policies and a proposed Commissioner’s Oath, and (3) a closed session to discuss an investigation of allegations against a PFC Commissioner.

The election of officers is an ordinary event, but likely should have happened at an earlier meeting. It looks to be the simple clean-up of an oversight.

Of the allegations against a Commissioner, I’ve written before, briefly, to caution against an approach based on speculation. (See, Common Council Session of 9.17.13: Police and Fire Commission Dismissal Proceedings.) Whether this matter will be resolved or prove ongoing, one cannot be sure. It’s reasonable to let whatever process is involved run its course before addressing it further.

There’s an irony in this, to be sure: I’ve been an occasional critic of police leadership in this city, but it’s surely some of those who have been reflexively supportive of that leadership who are most interested in the details of an investigation. A waning cadre that’s not thought about ideas but about connections, not policy but people of influence, is a group that will, in times like these, turn to base curiosity over good judgment.

There’s a third part of the agenda, about the proposed oath, procedures, etc., and their significance for sound policy in our city. These policies deserve careful consideration and review.

That’s a worthy topic for a time between now and the next PFC meeting.

The End of the Beginning

After a British victory at the Second Battle of El Alamein, Churchill famously observed of the war in November 1942 that 

….Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning….

So it is, even locally, with the War on Drugs. Like many others, I don’t smoke and I seldom drink (all the more to savor an occasional drink recipe).  Like millions of others, though, I see that the Drug War has been too expensive, too ineffective, failing to prevent drug abuse while simultaneously abusing civil liberties. 

The problems of addiction are no better; headlines proclaiming supposed victories no longer command belief, these forty years on. 

When proponents of numbers policing chose to describe their efforts as a war, they might have thought more carefully about which war we’d be waging.  For all their good intentions, they gave us not the Second World War, but Vietnam.  

That’s part of the sadness of this effort, too: so many good, frontline people tied to an ineffectual  strategy that’s been unworthy of their participation.    

Close at home, one sees signs of the end of the beginning, from the Janesville Gazette‘s Friday editorial, “As marijuana gains ground, law enforcement faces decisions.” 

The editorial is available only in print or to online subscribers, but it’s telling.  Ever so hesitantly, cautiously, almost begrudgingly the Gazette‘s editorialist inches readers toward the truth of marijuana enforcement: that it’s been an expensive mistake.   

In Rock, Jefferson, and Walworth Counties, there will be furious insistence from the unreconstructed that nothing’s changing, and that nothing ever will. In some towns nearby, and particularly from the bench and Sheriff’s Office in Elkhorn, the last holdouts will rail against change until, finally, the laws they’ve so punitively enforced and sentences they’ve so punitively imposed are no more.  

To those few, who have been inveterate Drug Warriors, seeking punishment but not treatment: you will, not so long from now, see our nation’s rejection of your approach.  The Draconian laws on which you’ve relied will be repealed, your enforcement programs cancelled, and your funding for endless, pricey purchases cut.  

In place of all this, you’ll still have a useful role: as examples of what not to do, of yesterday’s approach, as exemplars of the ill-conceived.

Across America, states are liberalizing their marijuana laws, police officers are declaring against the Drug War, and there’s a growing effort to Regulate Marijuana Like Wine.  A majority nationally now favors decriminalization, and that political trend is only growing.   

We’re not at the end of a failed strategy, but we’re at least at the end of the beginning of that failed strategy. 

When the laws change (and they will), I’ll still not smoke, and I’ll still drink only occasionally.  Yet, on that day, I’ll raise a glass to those who fought for change, for a focus on treatment over punishment, and in memory of those whose lives were ruined through an expensive, decades-long, ineffectual strategy.

Zoning Debates Are Often Just a Distraction from Failed Criminal Enforcement Strategies

Here’s the third post in a trilogy about residential housing in Whitewater.  For the first two posts, see, Old Whitewater Dreams of a Student Rez and The University’s Role in Town-Gown Issues.

Recap: (1) pointing to the northwest corner of the city for student rentals without actual, additional housing in that area is an empty solution, and (2) the university’s planned poorly and focused on the wrong priorities.

But, let’s now be candid: when residents rightly complain about damage to properly, loud noise in the early morning, and public indecency, they’re not raising mere zoning issues, they’re raising criminal ones. 

(I’ve been clear that these are crimes, and are wrong.  See, for example, The Crude Illegitimacy of Vandalism.)   

There are hundreds of millions of Americans, and thousands of campuses, with high-density neighborhoods, and many of them are doing far better than Whitewater’s doing on town-gown issues. It’s simply false – and nutty, actually – to pretend that (1) there’s nothing locally that can be done, (2) it’s all a consequence of high-density housing, or that (3) other college towns aren’t doing better.

Zoning’s often a fig leaf for a real problem that Whitewater simply has not solved, but many other communities have: holding to a failed criminal enforcement strategy leaves the city and campus fighting a losing effort against these crimes. 

And yet, and yet, Old Whitewater, that unreconstructed, Old Guard, can’t bring themselves to state this simple truth.  They’re so worried, or so doctrinaire, about seeming anti-police that they can’t admit a distinction between choosing among strategies and abject support or opposition to any decisions police leaders make.

So, it’s easier to pretend it’s a civil zoning problem than to admit it’s a failure of criminal enforcement strategies and leadership.

These are leaders who will try the same, attrition-based, keep-them-in-their-place numbers game that hasn’t worked, isn’t working, and won’t work. 

It’s not community policing, it’s talking about community policing while treating others as inevitable problems and threats, seeing the world as full of adversaries, relying on raids, ineffectual undercover operations, and having no real rapport with large swaths of the city’s population. 

They’ve only more of the same (or worse) to offer.

How do I know this?

Because, by the widespread claims of residents, themselves, conditions are as bad as ever. 

Current police leaders have no effective solution, except to (1) insist all is well, (2) complain when residents voice their concerns, and (3) double-down on yesterday’s mistakes and ineffective efforts. 

They don’t see critics, they see enemies, problems, threats, etc.  They don’t see fellow residents and citizens of the community, they see newcomerssupposed transients, and outside influences.

It’s a hunkered and bunkered leadership mentality – it cannot be concealed believably behind photo ops, press releases, and staged events.   

In the clips below, Whitewater Chief Otterbacher and UW-W Chief Kiederlen express their views. 

From Chief Otterbacher, her presentation is a combination of grousing that a victimized resident wrote to Common Council and the press, and an evident weariness that this is a long, endless slog with no imagined resolution. 

From Chief Kiederlen, it’s almost a speaking-through-gritted-teeth presentation.  (Oddly, it’s a presentation where Chancellor Telfer appears and simply introduces Chief Kiederlen, but says nothing of substance otherwise.)

I’d guess neither police leader understands how he or she comes across outside of his or her small circle of like-minded people.

From Common Council on 11.8.12, with Chief Otterbacher (speaking from 5:43 to 11:08):

Common Council Meeting 11/08/2012 from Whitewater Community TV on Vimeo.

From Common Council on 5.21.13, with City Manager Clapper (speaking from 6:00 to 7:09), Chancellor Telfer (speaking from 7:10 to 8:00), and Chief Matt Kiederlen (speaking from 8:01 to 13:00):

Common Council Meeting 05/21/2013 from Whitewater Community TV on Vimeo.

Common Council Session of 9.17.13: Police and Fire Commission Dismissal Proceedings

Last night’s Common Council session had a large agenda, including toward the end consideration of whether to appoint outside counsel for a possible complaint against a Police and Fire Commissioner.

After a closed session of about seventy minutes, Council returned to open session and unanimously voted to authorize outside counsel to be hired for a claimant, at a maximum hourly rate, with authorization of related costs, and with an outline of the procedure to be followed. (If both claimnant and accused have representation, some of the procedures will likely be established between the two sides’ attorneys.)

In the end, every situation like this involves a possible claimant and someone accused, and the procedures and expenditures and costs matter in relation to the complaint lodged. Procedural fairness matters, but it matters because specific people and specific situations warrant fair treatment.

Without knowing the nature of the complaint, the particular allegations against someone, there’s not much more to say, about procedures or costs or other matters. (It’s also possible that there will be no dismissal hearing, the matter being settled without need for one.)

Whitewater, as would many other places in similar circumstances, will probably slip into a parlor game about all this, but the more serious the matter, the less worthy that game will be. If all this should be serious enough for a hearing, then it’s already too serious for speculation and guessing.

We’ve had controversies before, and we’ll have them again, but each and every one of them has involved people aggrieved or accused, and there’s no general view of things that trumps a particular person’s right to be heard, as complainant or accused.

Police and Fire Commission Interviewing

Police & Fire Commission 08/29/2013 from Whitewater Community TV on Vimeo.

Last week, Whitewater’s Police and Fire Commission considered whether to have the Whitewater police chief or senior police leaders present at civilian PFC interviews of candidates (promotions, etc.). (See, about this topic, Interviews & Citizen Oversight.)

Whitewater’s past practice has been to assure that police leadership attends these civilian interviews.

The obvious problem, of course, is that the law requires civilian oversight, and civilian oversight isn’t genuine if there are no moments when civilians can independently interview candidates on behalf of the community (composed mostly, after all, of fifteen-thousand civilians).

It’s very true that Whitewater has had a police staff presence at interviews for years: that precedent doesn’t excuse the continuation of an all-too-servile approach. But I know, well enough, that some on this commission were not selected for civilian independence, but for deference to others.

Ms. Jan Bilgen, current chair of the Police and Fire Commission, contends that one of the reasons to have a police leadership presence in civilian interviews is to determine whether candidates’ answers are the same as in previous interviews (ones solely with the chief or other police leaders).

Is Ms. Bilgen joking?

A leadership presence in PFC interviews is the surest way to guarantee that every answer will be canned to fit a safe and comfortable line. She’s supposedly looking for discrepancies, but what she’ll really get is those who can parrot a prepared speech over and over. You won’t get discrepancies with a leader present, you’ll get prepared answers.

Far from producing a better force, her way is sure to encourage a careerist and dull one.

One should hope for an independent interview that produces the unusual and unexpected; her way stifles those differences (ones that could be discussed afterward with police leaders and PFC alone, comparing notes).

Ms. Bilgen has been a dutiful supporter of leadership orthodoxy, and she likely wouldn’t have been on this commission otherwise. Not a supporter, alone, but a particularly obliging one, first of then-Chief Coan, now of current Chief Otterbacher.

I’m not a gambler, but if I were so inclined, I could think of no safer bet than counting on Ms. Bilgen to flack reflexively for whatever practice the city’s leadership advocates.

Funny, that the city watches her in an open PFC session, as even that’s a practice that she once spoke against (and her husband, too, that evening, if I recall correctly).

The time to test water for drinkability is before one slurps cup after cup, not afterward.

The time for consideration of the right practice would have been before repeating unthinkingly the current one.

It’s no surprise, though, that Ms. Bilgen likely won’t place the topic on the next PFC agenda (“I will place it on the next…not the September agenda, because I think that one’s pretty full, if memory serves. Umm, but if not the September agenda, then the next meeting…”)

Shoved into the drawer to collect dust; all-too-obviously – but successfully – done.

This department will be the last part of the city to develop a modern outlook, long after others have done so. Being the last, it will by then seem especially out-of-place. It’s doubtful that today’s leaders can imagine any different time, let alone that time.

Yet it doesn’t matter, as the social and political forces that will transform the department come from far beyond the city, are approaching steadily, and will prove inexorable.

Interviews & Citizen Oversight

The responsibility to interview a candidate should – and reasonably does – require that one interviews with one’s independent judgment. If the interviewer, himself or herself, is under someone’s else’s watch, then the interviewers aren’t truly independent (and candidates see that, too).

There’s a Police and Fire Commission meeting tonight, at 6 PM. The principal purpose of the meeting is an interview process for candidates for sergeant. The interview portion of the meeting is a closed session, with open sessions before and after.

It’s Item II. A (New Business) that’s worth considering this morning:

Consideration of Discontinuing Chief and/or Command Staff Attendance at PFC Candidate Interviews.

This should be, in a politically well-ordered community, an easily resolved question: the civilian members of a Police & Fire Commission, at the very least, should conduct interviews independent of, and outside the presence of, leaders of the police department (“Chief and/or Command Staff”).

It should never have been otherwise. It is an expression of weakness and insecurity that it should continue otherwise.

Whitewater will see, tonight, how her Police & Fire Commission addresses the authority of civilian commissioners to conduct genuinely independent review.

Local Policing and Point-of-View Cameras

There’s a story about my town’s (Whitewater, Wisconsin’s) decision to equip its on-patrol officers with point-of-view cameras. A small video camera will record officer interactions with residents. Reportedly, all interactions will be recorded, and at the

end of each shift, officers [will] download all videos into a general file that would get deleted automatically after 120 days. But videos of more significant actions — an arrest, chase, fight or anything an officer thinks might warrant more review — gets saved to a different location from which only supervisors may delete a video.

There are two questions about any POV recording regimen: will you record, and under what circumstances? There’s nothing wrong (and much benefit) with recording encounters, just as there’s no legal impedient to residents ordinarily photographing officers or public buildings, etc.

Quite simply, in a free society photography is not a crime, and it’s not a right only of a few.

Candidly, if the police are to record encounters, the only sensible policy is to record all encounters. Any other option will inevitably raise suspicion that officers record selectively only in circumstances that show them favorably, but decline to record encounters in which they might be acting outside of policy or the law.

One reads that in nearby Edgerton, Wisconsin, local officials decided to allow recordings from a body cam at an officer’s discretion. (Perhaps they’ve changed their policy since; I don’t know.)

A selective approach should never be any town’s policy, and the Edgerton city attorney’s explanation from 2011 of why selective recording should be allowed shows how ignorant or patronizing his argument is:

City attorney Dale Pope acknowledged that’s a very “subjective” standard, but he told the council that narrowing the guidelines for use of the cameras wouldn’t necessarily help.

“The problem you have is it’s very difficult to define a standard that’s going to work all the time,” Pope said.

Pope said if the city had a mandate that officers should activate a body cam at every traffic stop, and an officer forgot one time, it could inadvertently appear as an impropriety or that the officer was “trying to cover something up.”

Got that? It’s better to permit ever-present suspicion from selective use than risk occasional suspicion when an officer fails (or chooses not) to activate his video camera.

The two kinds of suspicion would not, of course, be the same: the first is endemic to a willy-nilly exercise of discretion, while the second would be a rarer, but legitimate concern about whether officers failed to comply with policy (cameras always on) or sought to hide misconduct.

Hard to say what’s worse: that Edgerton’s city attorney couldn’t see this distinction or that he hoped others couldn’t see it.

(It’s not the first example of poor policing in Edgerton. For more about the failure of Edgerton’s police force to handle properly a pursuit K9, see these posts 1, 2, 3, and 4, and 5.)

The only sound policy for a POV camera (or dash cam) is always on during each and every encounter, to exonerate officers of false charges and confirm legitimate charges of misconduct.

Posted earlier at Daily Adams.

Scenes from Whitewater’s Failing Drug War

Less than a week ago, at Whitewater’s Common Council session of 5.21.13, the city heard a presentation supposedly on university policies ‘to educate young adults’ about the dangers of substance abuse.

It was anything but that: after brief introductions from City Manager Clapper and Chancellor Richard Telfer, UW-Whitewater Police Chief Matt Kiederlen delivered scripted, doctrinaire, mostly punitive, and begrudging remarks on the university’s approach to drug policy. Chief Matt Kiederlen may hold whatever views he wishes, but it’s more than odd that anyone would watch these remarks and conclude that they would represent, as City Manager Clapper promised, something involving education.

Readers will find this portion of the meeting from 6:00 to 13:00 on the video below. (City Manager Clapper speaks from 6:00 to 7:09, Chancellor Telfer from 7:10 to 8:00, and Chief Matt Kiederlen from 8:00 to 13:00.)

Common Council Meeting 05/21/2013 from Whitewater Community TV on Vimeo.

Chief Matt Kiederlen. Of the three gentlemen speaking, Chief Kiederlen remarks were the most to be expected; Whitewater will be one of the last places in America to abandon the Drug War. America will end that so-called war, and the huge expense for the sham gain it has provided, but a mostly punitive approach will linger here after the majority of our fellow citizens have turned away. (When that majority has turned away, it won’t be because of rejection from the left, but from the right, having grown tired of undelivered promises.)

For now, it’s an ‘education’ that’s a mostly coerced re-education under threat of greater punishment.

Instead of seeking a genuine transformation in someone’s thinking, we’ve a touted policy of overwhelming young people with possible sanction after sanction, with the assertion that all those possible punishments, both criminal and civil, a compulsory education class, and community service will somehow work a transformation in one’s thinking.

There’s a profound difference between permanently rejecting substance abuse as a matter of good health and temporarily renouncing substance abuse as a way to avoid harsher punishment.

If even the Soviets, with all the force of the state, couldn’t eradicate alcohol abuse by punitive means – and they couldn’t – then there’s nothing any punitive measure in small-town Whitewater will do to work a permanent and meaningful solution.

Chancellor Telfer. I’m not sure why the Chancellor bothered to speak at all, his remarks being both merely introductory and wholly inconsequential. His dean of students couldn’t attend, and his campus police chief did all the meaningful talking. Perhaps someone had the idea that Chancellor Telfer’s imprimatur gave Chief Matt Kiederlen’s remarks a certain boost, but then one would have to believe that the Telfer Administration had an imprimatur to offer.

It doesn’t; the big issues of town-gown relations haven’t been solved. Another chancellor will have to tackle the problems that Chancellor Telfer either can’t or won’t address. In the end, his administration will be mostly forgettable, having substituted a crony-capitalist building program for a genuine transformation in city-university relations.

(Money from then-Gov. Doyle or Gov. Walker is no substitute for a change in attitudes.)

The university’s influence in the city has been often wasted, as the administration’s courage extends no further than the first encounter with a complaining, unreconstructed resident.

Thousands of students enrich the city, but this administration’s advocacy of their interests dutifully stops when Whitewater’s stodgy town squires become upset.

City Manager Clapper. The most puzzling person in this is surely City Manager Clapper. Either his prior conversations duped him into misunderstanding what kind of presentation he’d receive at Council, or he can’t tell the difference between a punitive policy and a truly rehabilitative one.

Neither possibility is reassuring.

It’s not that one minds hearing how policymakers truly think. Better to see and hear official’s reactionary positions than have them hidden from public view. It’s advantageous to know.

Simultaneously, it’s disconcerting: these leaders within the city are, respectively, less reasonable, less effectual, and less insightful than Whitewater deserves.

Common Council Session of 12.18.12: On the Police and Fire Commission

Here’s my third post on the 12.18.12 session.

Seeing a need to harmonize Whitewater’s municipal code with state statutes, Council restored the title of Police and Fire Commission to a citizen’s commission previously known as the Police Commission.

Years ago, I remarked how odd it was that Whitewater’s PFC never addressed fire department matters, name notwithstanding. (I was aware then, as I am now, that Whitewater’s local ordinances preserved an exemption against PFC oversight of the fire department.)

In an unrelated action, others saw this, too, and Lynn Binnie moved (I recall) to amend the local ordinance to refer to that body simply as a Police Commission. Doing so at the time reconciled name and day-to-day function. That’s practical.

I regret, though, that I never wrote more on this subject, these years since. At the time, I had a hunch – that’s all, really – that the ordinance’s total carve-out for oversight of the fire department was questionable under Wisconsin law. A hunch, though, amounts to nothing compared to a proper assessment. That proper assessment I have never attempted, much to my embarrassment, so much time having passed.

If Dr. Kidd and others now have questions about what is the right structure under law and policy, they’re easily as far ahead as anyone has been.

What to do? A few suggestions, the same I think as came out of the discussion following Dr. Kidd and Mr. Winship’s remarks:

1. Change the Title. Council took this step last night.

2. A Memorandum of the Law. What the law requires is the foundation for any discussion on this topic of PFC responsibilities. If Wisconsin law requires a change in responsibilities, then there’s no alternative but to change the practical PFC responsibilities to align them with state law. If there’s no requirement to change, then there’s still a policy question about what’s the best arrangement for the PFC.

To start, the city should prepare and post within a Council packet — sometime in 2013 when this matter is again addressed — a memorandum of law carefully stating the municipal administration’s legal assessment of what the PFC must do.

There should be enough time for all residents to view it.

3. Policy Discussions. Whether law requires a change to PFC responsibilities, or policy suggests it, still leaves Whitewater the opportunity for a new, negotiated framework with the fire department. Whitewater’s fire chief has declared his willingness to talk about the relationship between the PFC and department.

It’s far better to establish a new arrangement by consensus after the city has a memorandum of law from which to consider what must be done. This still leaves, apart from the law, what should be done.

There’s time for this, but it’s sensible than the city and department should complete this review and make any adjustments in 2013.

Next: Backyard Chickens.

Alert Alert!

People shouldn’t steal, and that includes stealing from stores. Virtually everyone believes this. It’s harmful to merchants, and infuriating to honest customers.

That some will, on occasion, commit these crimes doesn’t lessen the obligation of government to publicize that information both effectively and cleverly. It may be effective initially to post a shoplifting notice, with photographs and a headline ending in an exclamation point, but it’s surely not clever.

If it’s not clever, it’s not the best approach.

It’s not clever because alerts about small property crimes (wrong although those crimes are) seem overwrought and excessive when compared with necessary alerts about crimes of violence, missing child alerts, large-scale thefts, or any crimes where a suspect brandishes a weapon.

Those are the crimes that one typically reserves for a photographic alert, and expanding the pool of crimes treated this way diminishes the significance of those other alerts. Worse, it risks making the shoplifting alert look like a parody of the more serious missing-person alerts.

(The Center for Problem-Oriented Policing, headquartered at UW-Madison, also cautions that there’s a liability risk for misidentification of shoplifters, where the risk should be weighed against the relatively small value of the crime: “May have some limited value in deterring shoplifting, but where those identified have not been convicted by a court, both the merchants and the police engaged in the practice are vulnerable to legal challenge.”)

Over at the City of Whitewater’s webpage, there’s a SHOPLIFTING ALERT! about someone who allegedly stole merchandise from Walmart and Daniels Sentry.

It’s one of the worst ways to market the city to someone successful from beyond Whitewater: it risks looking like a parody of more serious alerts, makes the town seem more provincial than it is, and will cause people to wonder about how the city government directs its focus.

Adding an exclamation mark and all capitals (SHOPLIFTING ALERT!) only brings the notice even closer to a parody.

Shoplifting is wrong, but it’s also a down-market crime, and emphasizing it at the city’s website only makes the city look down-market, too.

This is easy for some people to see, but very hard for others to grasp.

City government needs someone who understands messaging beyond the perception of a few overly-insular residents.

Whitewater’s 8.16.12 Police Commission Meeting

Embedded below is the 8.16.12 Whitewater Police Commission meeting.

Recording and publishing these meeting videos online is a positive development for the city. It’s a requirement imposed on our local government as part of Whitewater’s Transparency Enhancement Ordinance, at Municipal Code Section 2.62.030.

Police Commission Meeting 08/16/2012 from Whitewater Community TV on Vimeo.

 

Two Quick Points about Meeting Notices

There are two things one can say about the scheduling of a meeting:

  • If the meeting is long-planned, there should be long-range notice
  • If the meeting is truly important (and one truly cares about community opinion), then the meeting should be scheduled after normal working hours, to allow people to attend

If a presumably important public function like departmental accreditation gets just a day or two of notice for public participation, then either it’s not important or those managing the process don’t think it’s important.

A last-minute announcement tells all one needs to know about a process: that it’s dull, routine, and approached in a perfunctory way.

Domestic drones as a threat to liberty

America’s use of drones against her foreign enemies, for surveillance and lethal strikes, has been notably successful. We are sure to build new and more advanced drones for similar uses, and to expand our naval power without placing aviators at risk.

Yet, something that has served so well in combat was sure to be proposed for domestic surveillance.

The risk to liberty, as Gene Healy observes, is profound:

Over the past decade, the creeping militarization of the homefront has proceeded almost unnoticed, with DHS grants subsidizing the proliferation of security cameras and military ordnance for local police departments.

On April 19, Reps. Ed Markey, D-Mass., and Joe Barton, R-Texas, co-chairs of the Congressional Bipartisan Privacy Caucus, sent a letter to the head of the FAA urging the adoption of privacy protections, given the “potential for drone technology to enable invasive and pervasive surveillance.” But Congress needn’t wait on Obama’s FAA to start protecting Americans’ privacy rights.

It’s well past time we stopped sleepwalking toward dystopia and had a serious public debate about where the lines should be drawn.

We’ve developed the dangerous habit of taking the weapons and devices designed to defend Americans in war and then using them against our fellow citizens. The line between military and civilian should be much clearer.

See, Gene Healy @ Cato.

Originally posted on 5.29.12 at Daily Adams.

Update: The Dismissal of Palmyra’s Police Chief, Charles Warren

An update to an earlier post on Palmyra’s dismissal of Police Chief Charles Warren: I withheld a comment on the matter (it was mostly fine, with one impediment), but I’d like to respond here to the contention that Warren and other officials should be accountable for their actions.

Yes, I agree; I simply don’t know enough about the charges to say whether dismissal was reasonable.

I do know how rare any action is, in any city, town, or village: most commissioners can’t image holding anyone accountable.

Leadership accountability doesn’t make a police force worse; it makes it better. Needless to say, a selfish leader is quick to conflate a single role with that of an entire department, or to insist that any criticism is an attack on all policing. Were such a defense valid, no politician could be impeached, or no principal fired, despite his or her conduct in office.

Weak leaders across Wisconsin surround themselves with commissioners who will shy from legitimate oversight that, in fact, makes for better leaders, supported field officers, and safer communities.

I may be unsure about particular circumstances in Palmyra, but I’ve no doubt about a general policy of leadership accountability.