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A U.S. Secret Service officer stands inside the fence at the White House as demonstrators protest the death of George Floyd on May 29, 2020, in Washington. (AP/Brandon) A U.S. Secret Service officer stands inside the fence at the White House as demonstrators protest the death of George Floyd on May 29, 2020, in Washington. (AP/Brandon)

A U.S. Secret Service officer stands inside the fence at the White House as demonstrators protest the death of George Floyd on May 29, 2020, in Washington. (AP/Brandon)

By Lawrence Andrea June 26, 2020

Wisconsin Congressman Grothman's bad-cop bill didn’t change the process

If Your Time is short

  • Grothman’s 2008 bill would have blocked officers facing charges from receiving pay until the charges were resolved

  • The bill, which did not pass, gave officers incentive not to drag out the investigation and trial processes stemming from charges

  • It would not have made significant procedural changes to make it easier to remove a bad cop

Calls for police reform have taken center stage in the global protests against police brutality and systemic racism following the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police. 

A number of cities across the country, including Milwaukee, are talking about reducing funding for police departments and putting the money toward social service programs. Others have talked about dismantling police departments and essentially starting over.

On June 25, 2020, the House of Representatives passed a sweeping police reform bill that would, among other things, eliminate legal protections shielding police officers from lawsuits and make it easier to prosecute them for illegal actions. 

U.S. Rep. Glenn Grothman, R-Glenbeulah, decried the bill in an impassioned speech on the House floor before the vote, saying changes to qualified immunity would result in a "timid" police force. 

He also referenced a bill he tried to pass in the Wisconsin state Senate that he said would have made it "easier to get rid of an underperforming police officer." It wasn’t the first time he mentioned that bill.

In a June 16, 2020 tweet, the third-term congressman indicated he was ahead of the push to reform policing practices.

"As a state legislator, I sponsored legislation to make it easier to get rid of bad cops," Grothman tweeted. "But Democrats' proposed police reforms are a disaster. Instead of focusing on punishing bad actors, they want to penalize the good cops."

Is Grothman right about the legislation he sponsored? Would it have made it "easier to get rid of bad cops"?

The claim

When asked for back up, Grothman pointed to a bill he introduced in the state Senate on February 15, 2008.

Under the bill, which did not pass, a police officer or firefighter charged with a misdemeanor or felony could have been suspended without pay "pending the disposition of charges."

Since then, the landscape has changed and similar reforms have been implemented.

But we need to focus on where things stood at the time, and how Grothman’s bill would have changed things.

The landscape at the time

When Grothman introduced his bill, Wisconsin police officers fired or suspended because they were charged with crimes continued to be paid until their cases were concluded.

The bill would have eliminated that provision and discouraged what Grothman described as officers being paid "to hang out and drag out the process." 

In an interview with PolitiFact Wisconsin, Curt Witynski of the League of Wisconsin Municipalities, who worked with Grothman on the bill, noted that the process for removing a police officer "takes a long time." 

He echoed Grothman’s view that stopping officers from getting paid while they faced charges would have motivated them to get through the process. 

"There would be a desire for there to be a quick ending to the process," Witynski said of the bill, adding: "It is legitimate to say that this would have made it easier for municipalities to get rid of bad cops faster."

But faster does not necessarily mean easier, which was how Grothman framed his claim.

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The proposed bill would not have made any changes to the process of removing an officer, such as reducing the number of steps or setting a specific timetable for appeals to be heard. Nor would it have reduced the legal standard for determining what is necessary to get rid of a problematic officer. 

Additionally, it focused on officers facing legal charges — the misdemeanors and felonies. It did not cover officers who may have broken department rules, or did something questionable but were not charged. And it wouldn’t have prevented officers facing inquiries from quitting and moving on to a different policing job with a seemingly-clean record.

A provision in the bill said police chiefs in cities smaller than Milwaukee could suspend a subordinate if the local police and fire commission failed to act after 181 days of the chief’s written move for the dismissal of an officer. 

But an analysis from the Legislative Reference Bureau at the time found a chief had always had the ability to suspend a subordinate officer. 

This provision would have just sped up the suspension process. It would not give police chiefs any additional authority. 

The changes since

As noted before, similar provisions have been passed in Wisconsin since Grothman’s bill failed to get enacted.

Wisconsin law was changed later that year to immediately stop paying officers who were fired if they were charged with crimes.

Lawmakers went further in 2009, ending pay for all Milwaukee officers as soon as they were fired, regardless of the reason for their dismissal, according to a June 24, 2011 article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. An effort in 2011 by Republican state lawmakers to revert the rules back to the 2008 standard was vetoed by then-Gov. Scott Walker.

The current process for removing a Milwaukee police officer has a number of steps.

When an officer is accused of misconduct, the department places the officer on paid administrative suspension or limited duty during the investigation.

If the police chief hands down a disciplinary suspension, the officer is not paid.

A suspended Milwaukee officer can appeal a disciplinary suspension to the city Fire and Police Commission. A panel of commissioners then hears the appeal and determines if a rule was violated. If the panel determines a rule was broken, the commission then decides whether the discipline imposed was appropriate.

After the commission makes its decision, an officer can appeal that decision to Milwaukee County Circuit Court, where a judge will make a ruling. An officer can then further appeal to the state Court of Appeals.

Milwaukee police can only appeal suspensions of more than five days, and officers don’t get paid during appeals.

Our ruling

Grothman said he sponsored legislation to make it easier to get rid of bad cops when he was a state legislator.

His 2008 bill would have — at the time — removed the financial incentive for a charged officer to delay investigations and trial. 

But the bill did not change the multi-step process of removing an officer, which can be slow and cumbersome. Nor would it have limited appeals or reduced the threshold for what behavior warrants firing. 

Our definition of Mostly False is "the statement contains an element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression."

That fits here.

Our Sources

Glenn Grothman, Twitter, June 16, 2020

Grothman, Bad Cop legislation, February 15, 2008

Phone call with Grothman, June 23, 24, 2020

Phone call with Curt Witynski, League of Wisconsin Municipalities, June 24, 2020

Phone call with Rachel Ver Velde, chief of staff, June 24, 2020 (on background)

Email with Legislative Fiscal Bureau, June 23, 24, 2020

Senate Bill, payment of officers , May 8, 2007

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Patrick Marley, Walker to veto budget provision on pay for disciplined cops, June 24, 2011

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Ashley Luthern, Milwaukee's police oversight board is taking over the internal investigation into officer charged with homicide, May 19, 2020

 

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More by Lawrence Andrea

Wisconsin Congressman Grothman's bad-cop bill didn’t change the process

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