Bill seeks to de-certify police officers to prevent job hopping

By: - May 25, 2021 6:00 am
Rep. Supreme Moore (D-Milwaukee) Omokunde (Photo | Isiah Holmes)

Rep. Supreme Moore (D-Milwaukee) Omokunde (Photo | Isiah Holmes)

Over the last year, legislators have reflected on how new policy proposals can be used to reform law enforcement. There’s a lot of ground to cover, but freshman Rep. Supreme Moore Omokunde (D-Milwaukee) has carved out a particular niche focusing on the certification process for officers. Moore Omokunde’s bill would create a state statute requiring officers to be de-certified for committing use-of-force violations or for quitting while they’re being subjected to an investigation.

“What it’s intended to do is to prevent the shuffling around of police officers to different jurisdictions when they violate use-of-force principles or they do something that is fireable or gets them under investigation as a police officer,” Moore Omokunde told Wisconsin Examiner. Multiple examples of current practice are written right into the representative’s proposal, which has been co-sponsored by Sens. Chris Larson (D-Milwaukee) and LaTonya Johnson (D-Milwaukee), as well as Rep. Jonathan Brostoff (D-Milwaukee).

Among those examples is former Wauwatosa officer Joseph Mensah, whose three fatal shootings over a five-year period fueled protests last year. As the officer’s third shooting was under investigation, the city’s Police and Fire Commission (PFC) suspended Mensah for violating department rules by giving several media interviews. Eventually Mensah resigned from the department and went to the Waukesha County Sheriff’s Department with a letter of recommendation written by outgoing Wauwatosa Chief Barry Weber.

Protesters gather at Wauwatosa's City Hall. They called for the firing of Officer Joseph Mensah, but also for the implementation of body cameras at the police department. (Photo by Isiah Holmes)
Protesters gather at Wauwatosa’s City Hall. They called for the firing of Officer Joseph Mensah, but also for the implementation of body cameras at the police department. (Photo by Isiah Holmes)

Then there was officer Christopher Manney, who killed Dontre Hamilton in 2014. Following media attention to the incident, Manney reported having received job offers from departments across the country. Other cases invoked by Moore Omokunde include the killing of 12-year-old Tamir Rice by a Cleveland police officer. The officer who killed Rice later was hired by a rural department, after being fired by Cleveland PD for providing false information on his cadet application.

“In St. Louis they call it the municipal shuffle,” said Moore Omokunde, “where you just go from one place to another place and they just get you a different job after you get fired or you quit.” His bill would establish rules that an officer would be de-certified within 30 days of quitting, or getting fired during a pending investigation or for violating use of force standards. That way, if the officer tries to get another job in a different jurisdiction then they’d have to go through a review by a PFC, or some other citizen board.”

“At that point, citizens get to decide who they want to become law enforcement officers,” said Moore Omokunde. “A citizens’ review board in Waukesha County may decide that Joseph Mensah is okay. That he killed three people in Milwaukee County, but he’s okay with us. And they may decide that but at the very least, he gets de-certified. He can’t just get hired by somewhere else, because you have to be certified as a police officer to work in law enforcement.”

Waukesha County Sheriff Department (Photo by: Isiah Holmes)
Waukesha County Sheriff Department (Photo by: Isiah Holmes)

In essence, the bill imposes a sort of stop-period after an officer leaves the job under circumstances where a review must be done before any new hiring is finalized. “It also says that your violation of use of force is something that is punishable in this way,” Moore Omokunde noted. “It also says that what you did is not acceptable, and we will de-certify you as a police officer because it violates public trust, and it violates some of the core things that we have with community and police relations. And so, if you want to come back and police again, you got to go to the community to get permission.”

The role of the police in our society has been under a microscope since the killing of George Floyd by the Minneapolis Police Department in May, 2020. Local Policing is an ongoing series analyzing the culture, tactics and actions of departments big and small across Wisconsin. If you have a story to share about your local police, reach out to reporters Isiah Holmes and Henry Redman at [email protected] and [email protected]

The freshman representative stressed that “we have to empower citizens to have that choice. And we have to put them into the decision-making process.” Recently, the Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission (FPC) has become the subject of another bill which is part of a package introduced by Sens. Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee) and Van Wanggaard (R-Racine). Their bill would allow the police union to recommend police officers to the FPC, which some fear would threaten the independence of the commission.

Taylor said she had been reluctant to put officers on the FPC, but later found value in the expertise they brought to the table. Personally, Moore Omokunde isn’t a fan of putting officers on the FPC. “It’s a citizen review board,” he said, “it’s the same reason that they don’t let attorneys sit on juries — because it’s supposed to be a lay person’s perspective and you get a lay vantage point. Once you have a police officer on that Fire and Police Commission, or a firefighter, then it’s no longer a lay person’s perspective.”

Community control over the police has been a hot-button topic since the George Floyd-inspired protests began in Wisconsin nearly a year ago. Although Milwaukee’s FPC is regarded as one of the strongest in the country, it’s a commission racked by political controversy. Wauwatosa’s PFC has also been criticize for its officer discipline process and a lack of transparency in picking a new chief once Weber retires in early June. Moore Omokunde’s bill shores up the strength and influence of civilian oversight boards.

Black Lives Matter protesters gather and march to the Milwaukee City Hall. Many called for the removal of Milwaukee police Chief Alfonso Morales. (Photo | Isiah Holmes)
Black Lives Matter protesters gather and march to the Milwaukee City Hall. Many called for the removal of Milwaukee police Chief Alfonso Morales. (Photo | Isiah Holmes)

Although the bill has received support from Democrats, Moore Omokunde hopes support comes from across the aisle — particularly since de-certification policies were one of the recommendations made by GOP Assembly Speaker Robin Vos’ Task Force on Racial Disparities. “I actually want to get this to a committee and get it to the floor, if possible,” said Moore Omokunde. “This goes hand-in-hand with things like qualified immunity.”

He added, “Right now I want to have some dialogue with some of my Republican colleagues so that we can talk about what this looks like.” Co-sponsors will be collected until June 1, at 5 P.M. “We know about bad apples and what happens to bad apples,” said Moore Omokunde. “So we have to change the culture of policing as well. We don’t need to just reform and change the shape of something. We need to look at the core of what public safety means, and what it is and actually change it at its core.”

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Isiah Holmes
Isiah Holmes

Isiah Holmes is a journalist and videographer, and a lifelong resident of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Holmes' video work dates back to his high school days at Wauwatosa East High, when he made a documentary about the local police department. Since then, his writing has been featured in Urban Milwaukee, Isthmus, Milwaukee Stories, Milwaukee Neighborhood News Services, Pontiac Tribune, the Progressive Magazine, Al Jazeera, and other outlets. He was also featured in the 2018 documentary The Chase Key, and was the recipient of the Sierra Club Great Waters Group 2021 Environmental Hero of the Year award. The Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council also awarded Holmes its 2021-2022 Media Openness Award for using the open records laws for investigative journalism. Holmes was also a finalist in the 2021 Milwaukee Press Club Excellence in Journalism Awards alongside the rest of the Wisconsin Examiner's staff. The Silver, or second place, award for Best Online Coverage of News was awarded to Holmes and his colleague Henry Redman for an investigative series into how police responded to the civil unrest and protests in Kenosha during 2020. Holmes was also awarded the Press Club's Silver (second-place) award for Public Service Journalism for articles focusing on police surveillance in Wisconsin.

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