Town’s police want troublemakers barred from downtown district
In a move drawing criticism from Wisconsin civil libertarians and the local bar association, Waukesha’s police department is working to develop a policy barring probationers and parolees from entering a redeveloped district of downtown.
The as-yet unwritten proposal being considered by local, county and state law enforcement agencies would bar probationers and parolees from entering 48-square blocks in downtown Waukesha without police permission. The ban would exist as a stipulation of the probation or parole agreement of offenders with a repeated history of arrests in the area. Law enforcement officials said they were prompted to consider a policy after downtown shop owners and residents complained about the area’s high crime and vagrancy problems.
Wayne Dussault, Waukesha deputy police chief, says the department will implement the program when a written version of the policy is finalized. He expects the policy to take effect in about two weeks.
Sam Benedict, president of the Waukesha Bar Association, says he believes the city is just hoping for good public relations. When asked about the constitutionality of the proposed policy, he said: “This is one of the dangers. It gives the police a large amount of discretion in determining who is breaking the law. [The proposed policy] certainly may give them more power than the law intended. If you have some contact with the criminal justice system, does that fairly make you a candidate to be excluded from this zone regardless of your activities?”
Officials at the state’s American Civil Liberties Union chapter seem to agree. “This appears to be another example of public relations winning out over good law enforcement,” said Chris Ahmuty, executive director of the ACLU of Wisconsin.
“This is obviously not going to help reduce crime downtown, but the police and the district attorney want to look as though they are doing something to help so they came up with this scheme,” Ahmuty said.
However, he noted that because the proposed policy would allow probationers and parolees to go into the area for official business or counseling, and because it would apply only to probationers and parolees, it could stand up well to constitutional scrutiny.
“There are many exceptions that are [built in] that are clearly [there] to protect it from challenge,” Ahmuty said, adding that his group does not plan to fight the policy.
The Waukesha police stand by the constitutionality of their proposed policy.
“How does it violate their rights if it is a condition of probation or parole?” asked Wayne Dussault, Waukesha deputy chief of police. The police and the Wisconsin Department of Probation and Parole contend that the stipulation would be no different from the very common stipulation that parolees and probationers refrain from consuming alcohol or drugs.
“It would be the same as if they were consuming intoxicants,” Dussault said. “This is a legitimate concern for a probation officer.”
Corrections Field Supervisor Karl Held calls those who say the proposed policy violates the assembly rights of parolees and probationers “misguided” and points out that the initiative is nothing new. He says the strategy, which the Waukesha police learned about at a law enforcement conference in November, has been used in communities all over Wisconsin, including Milwaukee.
“People have to remember, our concern is for the taxpayers and the shopkeepers more so than for the person who has been unable to control their behavior,” he said.