March 25, 2011

Armed Extortion in Wisconsin?

As the Delegates were leaving Independence Hall for the final time, a woman approached Benjamin Franklin and asked:

Dr. Franklin, what kind of government have you given us?

Franklin replied:

A republic, if you can keep it.

Brilliant as he was, Franklin was more prescient than he could have imagined.

Democracy is at once robust and fragile. Among its greatest strengths is that it is voluntary. A people choose to participate because the benefits of democracy are more than worth its duties and responsibilities. Yet this strength is also among its greatest weaknesses. When a sufficient number of citizens no longer believe that the duties and responsibilities of democracy are worth its benefits, the keeping of that republic, that Democracy, becomes an open question, a question much discussed over the last two years.

If, for example, one third of the public, some 100 million Americans, decided that government was so corrupt that the only way to curtail its unrestrained spending was to refuse to pay income taxes, the system would quickly break down. Imagine too that the people lose confidence in the police. Imagine that they believe that the police will play favorites, and that those they favor are immune from arrest, that the police will stand idly by and ignore the crimes of those they support. How can the people know who the police might favor and when? Who would not hesitate to call them?

One of the primary factors causing Americans to question the continuing existence of the republic is the corrupting effect of public sector unions. Franklin Delano Roosevelt is certainly not remembered as a conservative, yet even he recognized the dangers inherent in public sector unions, considering government union strikes against taxpayers:

“unthinkable and intolerable.”

Even George Meaney, President of the AFL-CIO in 1955 said:

“It is impossible to bargain collectively with the government.”

FDR was such a giant of early progressivism that Time Magazine photoshopped Mr. Obama’s face onto an iconic image of FDR for its November 28, 2008 cover. In truth, FDR and BHO do have one thing in common: Both spent truly awesome amounts of money. It has been said that money is the root of all evil. At the moment, it is, at least, the motivational force that threatens to dissolve our republic.

I have, for several years, read and enjoyed the writings of “Jack Dunphy,” the pen name of a serving LAPD officer. Because of our similar backgrounds and experiences, I recognize the importance of helping the public to learn the realities of law enforcement from those who actually do it, but his most recent post on Pajamas Media, “Not All Public Sector Unions Are Made Equal,” on March 17 has given me pause.

But before I address that article, let us first travel across the nation from Los Angeles to that pastoral, Progressive land of dairy farms and cheese hats: Wisconsin. Wisconsin has become infamous of late for armed extortion and blatant betrayal of the public trust. I speak, tragically, of Wisconsin’s police.

Many reports have mentioned officers of various police forces appearing to stand by and do nothing as union lawbreaking and violence ran rampant under their watchful gaze. This might, under some circumstances, be wise and necessary, but there is reason to believe that less professional and rational motivations have been at work, for many Wisconsin police forces are unionized.

On more than one occasion, police officers in uniform have joined union forces occupying the Capitol building to express their solidarity. Others have threatened to disobey the orders of their superiors to remove protestors. Perhaps some have actually refused. One uniformed officer went so far as to wield a bullhorn from the Rotunda floor to exhort the Capitol-occupying crowd to greater heights of glorious, socialist struggle.

Interestingly, Wisconsin has a “Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights” which specifically allows political activism by police officers and prevents reprisals for such activity. It reads, in part:

164.015 Engaging in political activity. No law enforcement officer may be prohibited from engaging in political activity when not on duty or not otherwise acting in an official capacity, or be denied the right to refrain from engaging in political activity.

164.03 Recrimination. No law enforcement officer may be discharged, disciplined, demoted or denied promotion, transfer or reassignment, or otherwise discriminated against in regard to employment, or threatened with any such treatment, by reason of the exercise of the rights under this chapter.

Notice that the statute requires that officers be off duty and not acting in their official capacity, but does not specifically address the wearing of uniforms.

Most police agencies reasonably consider that any officer engaging in such activity in uniform will be universally seen by the public to be on duty and acting under color of their office. For this reason, most agencies prohibit the wearing of the uniform for any purpose other than official duties, and even officers stopping by a quick shop on the way home from work commonly cover their uniform with a jacket. Officers usually take great pains to do nothing that might diminish respect for, or the authority of, the uniform, or which might cause the public to doubt police fairness and impartiality. Professional, non-corrupt police officers know that they need the voluntary, whole-hearted support and respect of the public, the public they are sworn to serve and protect, not extort.

The police are committing extortion? Indeed they are, at least in Wisconsin, where during the first week in March, the “Wisconsin Professional Police Association” sent out letters and faxes to a great many Wisconsin businesses--particularly those that supported Gov. Scott Walker-- demanding that they toe the union line or face a boycott of their businesses. The letter/fax was signed by the following:

James L. Palmer, Executive Director
Wisconsin Professional Police Association

Mahlon Mitchell, President
Professional Fire Fighters of Wisconsin

Joe Conway, President
International Fire Firefighters of Wisconsin

John Matthews, Executive Director
Madison Teachers, Inc.

Keith Patt, Executive Director
Green Bay Education Association

Bob Richardson, President
Dane County Deputy Sheriff’s Association

Dan Frei, President
Madison Professional Police Officer’s Association

Most police officers around the nation would be shocked by this crude, extortion-like attempt. While this act is likely not specifically illegal in Wisconsin, it smells of extortion, and any such communication would tend to destroy public faith in law enforcement. Truly professional officers would never contemplate or allow such a thing. As bad as it is, worse is the greater, much more destructive, implied threat: Do as we demand or police (and fire) services and protection will be selectively provided, perhaps entirely withheld. Someone is ripping up your store? We’ll get to it when we have time, maybe. Your business is on fire? Aw, made the wrong turn! Who has that map? The co-signers of this thinly veiled attempt at extortion may claim that they intend no such thing, but what rational business owner could think otherwise?

Our system of law works because most people voluntarily obey most laws most of the time, but when they can no longer count on the impartiality and honor of the police (or the devotion to duty of their firefighters), their respect for the law, and their willingness to obey it, is greatly diminished. Businesses are particularly sensitive and vulnerable to this kind of threat. The average citizen might never have personal contact with the police, but businesses have frequent need of police protection and services. Criminals exploit the vulnerabilities of their victims. In Wisconsin, so do the police.

Surely this must be hyperbole! Surely the police would not fail to enforce obvious violations of the law occurring under their noses? On March 16th, at a Merill, WI rally to recall one of the fourteen Democrats who fled Wisconsin, a female protestor, pretending to sign a recall petition, wrote “f**k you” on it and ripped up others to the cheers of other protestors. The event took place on the courthouse grounds because of threats of violence at the originally designated private location. Police officers were present and witnessed the crime, but did nothing and told eyewitnesses that there was nothing they could do about it. Not quite. Consider this Wisconsin Statute:

12.13 Election fraud. (1) ELECTORS. Whoever intentionally does any of the following violates this chapter:

(3) PROHIBITED ACTS. No person may:
(a) Falsify any information in respect to or fraudulently deface or destroy a certificate of nomination, nomination paper, declaration of candidacy or petition for an election, including a recall petition or PETITION FOR A REFERENDUM [emphasis mine]; or file or receive for filing a certificate of nomination, nomination paper, declaration of candidacy or any such petition, knowing any part is falsely made.

12.60 Penalties. (1) (a) Whoever violates s. 12.09, 12.11 or 12.13 (1), (2) (b) 1. to 7. or (3) (a), (e), (f), (j), (k), (L), (m), (y) or (z) is guilty of a Class I felony.

Notice that the act that rendered the police helpless is a felony in Wisconsin, likely a separate felony count for each document defaced or destroyed. The legislature no doubt made this act a felony because destroying such political documents strikes at the heart of democracy, and in Wisconsin, apparently so do Democrat legislators and at least some of the police. Even if the officers were unaware of this statute, the protestor was easily guilty of disturbing the peace, destruction of property or both. Even neophyte police officers know those.

Returning to Mr. Dunphy, I’ll not engage in a point-by-point refutation of his arguments. The more than 300 PJM readers responding to his article have done that quite well. Like those Wisconsin officers, Mr. Dunphy seeks to claim his place as a member of a class of untouchable masters of the public whose dollars elect Democrat politicians and expect those indentured legislators to shower them with even more taxpayer dollars in return.

I am, however, sympathetic to one of Mr. Dunphy’s concerns. The police are uniquely vulnerable to trivial and false charges of misconduct, and are sometimes mistreated by politicians. Even so, this is not an argument for unions whose only true interests are power and money, both illegitimately and involuntarily seized from the public.

Sufficient due process protections can be legislated. The Congress could also pass legislation addressing pension and experience portability between state and cities. Of course, with such legislation comes the risk that experienced officers could price themselves out of many police markets. There is, after all, real competition among professional police agencies for professional officers.

When Democrat legislators refuse to voluntarily abide by the results of elections and flee their states to thwart the will of the people, when they claim that their anarchy is the true expression of democracy, our republic stands in jeopardy. When unions import professional agitators, occupy and trash a state capitol, trespass, destroy property, commit assault, and make death threats against Republican legislators and their innocent families, the republic stands in jeopardy. When the police abandon their duty, make extortion-like threats, turn a blind eye to crime and elevate their own economic interests above their oath, the republic stands in jeopardy. And when the public can no longer depend upon the voluntary fidelity of the executive and legislative branches of government to do the jobs for which they are elected and hired, the republic stands in jeopardy.

This too is why it’s not necessary to respond in detail to Officer Dunphy. The proximate cause of Wisconsin’s recent domestic strife is public sector unionism, motivated by its primary reason for being: The pursuit and retention of money and power at the expense of the public, and at the expense of responsibility, discipline, truth, and the kind of sacred honor our Founding Fathers volunteered to risk. No reason, no justification, no matter how sympathetically portrayed, can erase this stark reality or justify Mr. Dunphy's arguments.

Posted by MikeM at March 25, 2011 01:10 AM
Imagine too that the people lose confidence in the police. Imagine that they believe that the police will play favorites, and that those they favor are immune from arrest, that the police will stand idly by and ignore the crimes of those they support. How can the people know who the police might favor and when? Who would not hesitate to call them?

This is already the facts on the ground in inner city America, with exactly the sort of results you fear.

Posted by: Phelps at March 25, 2011 01:33 AM

"It has been said that money is the root of all evil. At the moment, it is, at least, the motivational force that threatens to dissolve our republic."

Posted by MikeM at March 25, 2011 01:10 AM

Actually, it's the *love* of money, not money itself.

Posted by: Michael in MI at March 25, 2011 01:43 AM

A democracy isn't all that voluntary either. If you are in the 49% of the population that is not getting its way, it is tyrrany and you don't get a choice to not participate.

Thisis the strength of a constitution: to restrict the power of the government so that a majority cannot use the power of government to oppress the minority.

Posted by: Professor Hale at March 25, 2011 08:52 AM

I read that letter form the police and firefighter's unions as saying: "Nice business you have there. Shame if anything were to happen to it."

Posted by: Tully at March 25, 2011 09:33 AM

Did you read Dunphy's latest article about illegal immigrants being given special treatment when it comes to impounding vehicles of unlicensed drivers? Basically, the police are being ordered to play favorites and selectively enforce the law by the politicians, and the police leadership that sucks up to the politicians for budget/power reasons.

"Imagine too that the people lose confidence in the police. Imagine that they believe that the police will play favorites, and that those they favor are immune from arrest, that the police will stand idly by and ignore the crimes of those they support. How can the people know who the police might favor and when? Who would not hesitate to call them?"

Perhaps a police union protecting the police from the partisan politicians is warranted. But not the collective bargaining for increased benefits. How is the average policeman going to resist being ordered by his department to unequally enforce the law if there isn't some organization on his side opposing the politicians and politically driven/motivated police leadership?

Posted by: styrgwillidar at March 25, 2011 10:37 AM

The Wall Street Journal ran an article some years ago about how the government really gets in your way once you make more than $50,000 per year. They included the police in their article and indicated that you really don't get protection from these people. In fact, they turn more into a problem than a help. I have experienced this on a number of occasions. They did not try to solve break-ins at my business, only indicating that I should file the insurance. Then they refused protection when a nut patient threatened me and my family. I could indicate a number of other occurances.

As to FDR and Obama, Obama is following the exact path of FDR. What people don't understand is that the world wide depression was only a few years in duration. However, here it lasted about 20 years as a result of the interference of FDR and his government. Following on the heals of Lincoln and Wilson, he eliminated our freedom. We really don't live in a free society.

Posted by: david7134 at March 25, 2011 05:59 PM

A republic is not the same thing as a democracy.


Posted by: Josh A. Kruschke at March 25, 2011 07:39 PM

and there's a reason to call police when you are having a problem you can tend to yourself with a little judicious application of lead?
I trust po-po less now than when I was actually purposely breaking laws.

Posted by: JimShyWolf at March 25, 2011 10:05 PM

Dear Styrgwillidar:

Thanks for your comment! The situation you brought up is indeed annoying for honest officers, but fortunately, not terribly common. Even so, it's not an argument for unions. Union contracts virtually never extend to allowing employees to disobey orders or overrule their superiors, but merely deal with general work rules and the rules to be followed when an employee is being disciplined or fired. As annoying as they may be, such matters are properly political situations that should be resolved by the politicians who hire and fire police chiefs, or the citizens who vote Sheriffs out of office. If these avenues don't work, an officer's choice is essentially to shut up and follow orders or to honorably bail out and find an honorable place to work. As I hope I demonstrated, public employee unions don't contribute to that, quite the opposite.

Dear Josh A. Kruschke:

Thanks too, for your comment. I do realize that our system of government is a republic, and tried to make that clear. However, at the same time, we practice representative democracy. It's been my experience that those who understand the difference between a republican form of government, direct democracy and representative democracy often refer to democracy rather than a republic as it's easier than having to write qualifiers whenever you use "democracy," or an explanation whenever you use "republic." Most folks, absent lengthy explanation, understand what we mean when we speak of democracy, particularly when it's being compared to the other forms of government.

Thanks again guys!

Posted by: mikemc at March 25, 2011 11:14 PM