Friday, March 4, 2011

Politicians Misuse State Patrol?

Early 20th century state police forces had little resemblance to modern professional law enforcement but were oft known for being strikebreakers.  The growth of the trade union movement saw resistance to creation of such units for fear they would be misused.  The public concern about this resulted in the Wisconsin State Patrol having specific prohibitions imposed on it by the legislature:

"No state traffic officer shall be used in or take part in any dispute or controversy between employer or employee concerning wages, hours, labor or working conditions; nor shall any such officer be required to serve civil process. The department may assign state traffic officers to safeguard state officers or other persons." [Wis. Stat. s. 110.07(2m)]
Fast forward to the past couple of weeks where state troopers were sent to the homes of the 14 State Senate Democrats who left the state to delay passage of the so-called "budget repair bill."  Troopers were also used for "security" at the state capitol during nearly two weeks of public employee protests.  And now the Republicans in the State Senate want law enforcement officers to round up the 14 Democrats whom they've cited for contempt.

Not only is it a slippery slope, it's arguably an unlawful misuse of the state patrol.  You'd think the powers that be over at the state patrol would be slapping some folks up, pointing out that troopers have no business getting anywhere near a labor dispute and no authority to serve civil process such as that being promulgated by the Senate Republicans to arrest their opposition.

Of course, you'd think in Wisconsin that the director of the Wisconsin State Patrol would be free of political influence -- well, as free as a Governor's appointee can be -- but newbie Gov. Scott Walker carried nepotism to a new low as his director is none other than the father of the Fitzgerald boys who are the Republican leaders in both houses of the legislature.  I guess when you're in the family business you don't bother with such things as reading the law that governs your agency.

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