A police officer parked near the Pershing Park boat launch.
Mayor John Dickert criticized city police officers for parking their squad cars out of the public's sight while on active duty, according to city records.
Dickert wrote an email to Police Chief Kurt Wahlen on Feb. 4 saying he had received complaints from city residents about officers parking in out-of-the-way areas. He and City Administrator Tom Friedel also had a conversation with Deputy Chief David Smetana in January on the same issue, and at least one conversation prior to that.
"As I have said in the past and will continue to reinforce; we have an increase in street crimes and burglaries lately, for officers to take a break or do their reports in areas that make taxpayers feel like they are hiding is unacceptable," Dickert wrote to Wahlen.
RacinePost obtained the mayor's memo, along with emails from Wahlen and Smetana, with an open records request, which was promptly answered by the city.
In his email, Dickert cited three complaints he had received about officers.
One was a text from a taxpayer about two officers parked in Rooney Pugh Park at the end of Riechert Court. The second involved two police cars parked at Washington Park Golf Course behind trees and the third was from city staff telling him about officers parked under the viaduct next to City Hall.
"I cannot begin to tell you how much respect I have for the officers, but it is issues like this that I cannot defend," Dickert wrote. "If they have to do work or talk, please remind them to do it in public. It is often the mere presence of the officers that keep people in line and make them feel more comfortable."
Wahlen responded to Dickert by saying his concerns would be read to the entire police department. He added that without more specifics, such as a squad car number or the time of day, it was difficult to investigate the residents' complaints.
"It is important to remember that we cannot really judge the officers without finding out the details," Wahlen wrote to Dickert on Feb. 4.
Smetana wrote to the police department's shift commanders on Jan. 11 about conversations he had with Dickert and Friedel about officers parking out of the public's eye.
"I have once again been approached by the City Administrator and Mayor in regards to seeing marked squads tucked away in obscure locations," he wrote.
Sgt. Martin Pavilonis, a spokesman for the Racine Police Department, said on-duty officers typically park their squads in out-the-way locations for safety while doing paperwork, planning strategy, or taking breaks.
Officers spend most of their shift on the road working out of their car, he said.
"Their office is their squad car," Pavilonis said.
Safety is an important consideration when officers park their cars for breaks or to write paperwork. Parking in vacant lots or off the roadway helps officers spot anyone who approaches their car while they're distracted writing up reports, Pavilonis said.
"It's hard to sneak up on them if they're out in the open," he said.
He added it's hard to judge what officers are doing in parked cars. They may be writing reports, watching a crime trouble spot or rounding up high school truants. Officers also may be taking a break or just talking to another officer, similar to co-workers in any office. The only difference is police are in the public's eye, Pavilonis said.
"We don't see inside of City Hall offices," he said.
Pavilonis said officers did not get upset when Dickert's letter was read to them during patrol shift meetings. They took the memo under advisement, he said.
"Chief is the chief of police," Pavilonis said. "If it's his directive, then that's how it is."
Here is the full text of Mayor Dickert's memo to Chief Wahlen (reprinted exactly as original):
From: Dickert, John
Sent: Thursday, February 04, 2010 11:45 a.m.
To: Wahlen, Kurt
Cc: Friedel, Thomas
Subject: PArking vehicles
Kurt, I have had numerous calls and text messages from constituents from residents regarding our officers parking in areas that make them look as if they are hiding from the public.
1. A text from a taxpayer that two officers were parked in Rooney Pugh park at the end of Reichert Court.
2. Two cars were parked in the Washington park Golf course parking lot behind trees and talking.
3. Staff contacting me about officers parked under the viaduct in the lower parking lot next to city hall!
As I have said in the past and will continue to reinforce; we have an increase in street crimes and burglaries lately, for officers to take a break or do their reports in areas that make taxpayers feel like they are hiding is unacceptable.
I cannot begin to tell you how much respect I have for the officers, but it is issues like this that I cannot defend. If they have to do work or talk, please remind them to do it in public. It is often the mere presence of the officers that keep people in line and make them feel more comfortable.
If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to call. These are only three of a number of calls I have been receiving since I started. Please see that the officers understand the important positive role they play in our city.
Mayor of Racine
730 Washington Ave.
Racine, WI 53403
Chief Wahlen's response:
From: Wahlen, Kurt
Sent: Thursday, February 04, 2010 3:40 PM
To: Dickert, John
Cc: Friedel, Thomas; Smetana, David
Subject: RE: PArking vehicles
Mayor: Your e-mail will be read in its entirety to every sworn member of this police department and the directive about remaining in plain view will be reiterated and enforced. However, it is difficult for me to dress down the troops on general complaints when I do not know any particulars other than a vehicle was, at some point, at a particular location. After all, it is possible that the officers could be at a particular location for good reason - such as chasing truants below Park High School. Without knowing the squad number and the time of day, we cannot follow-up on these complaints. Further, if they are on the dinner break, they have the right to be most anywhere enjoying a few quiet minutes with a sandwich.
I request that you please forward complaints concerning police performance to the department, or send these parties to the Department's website. I have the complaint forms there posted in both Spanish and English. We will follow-up on all of them. Those contacting you could phone the Shift Commander, D/C Smetana or even me directly. Phoned in complaints will be followed up as well.
Again, it is important to remember that we cannot really judge the officers without finding out the details. We do have GPS information we could possibly use to research any complaint if we were given a few details; squad number, date, time and location. We did use this GPS information to force one member of this department to resign recently.
Over all, the members of this department have been doing a great job. Crime is down significantly. We caught two burglars on day shift quite recently after they broke into a house near Lathrop and Washington Ave. These offenders were plaguing residences in Racine as well as in Kenosha.
KurtEmail from Deputy Chief David Smetana to shift commanders:
From: Smetana, David
Sent: Monday, January 11, 2010 2:20 PM
To: Polzin, Michael; Purdy, Robert; Lopez, Carlos; Esch, Mark;
Cc: Wahlen, Kurt
Subject: 10-84 locations
I have once again been approached by the City Administrator and Mayor in regards to seeing marked squads tucked away in obscure locations. One of the locations mentioned specifically was across from Three Door during the early morning hours, let your officers know that any measures they could take to be more visible during paperwork or 84 transactions would be much appreciated. The officer's visibility lends to the general public's perceptions about them and their activity. Meeting while turning in paper work or other meetings between officers near busy intersections or problems areas may assist in the public's perceptions about police coverage in the City. One suggestion is to have supervisors name more visible locations when calling for and collecting paperwork.
Feel free to put your own spin on this to the officers you command, I am very proud of the Patrol Division and the job they do. Do not pass this on as an indictment of those efforts.