Chief Koval's Blog

"Mock Funeral Home Processions" and "Sanctuary Cities"

July 20, 2015 8:44 AM

In an attempt to promote domestic tranquility on the home front, I took a few days "off" the week of 7/5/15.  My wife of 31 years is crazy about their family's cottage in the north woods and I agreed to take a brief sojourn predicated on a few terms:  I would relent to her desire to commune with "nature" at the lake for part of the day (it should be noted that my idea of "roughing it" is a 3-star hotel) and then I would get to do email and work from the Hatley Public Library (where I can get both phone service and wifi!)!

While checking in with one of my assistant chief's, I learned of a demonstration/mock funeral scheduled for 7/6/15.  As is our custom, we discussed how the event would be staffed in a manner that would promote the ability of the participants to maximize their constitutional rights within the parameters of "reasonableness," while also ensuring that calls for regular service and officer safety concerns were addressed. Once staffing adjustments were determined, including the contingency of seeing how overtime costs could be contained, our discussion(s) always then turn to reviewing our protocols for crowd "management" (not crowd "control").  MPD has been a pioneering leader in developing a protocol known as the "Madison Method," which champions our desire to do all that we can to facilitate rights of the First Amendment while respecting other essential functions such as the safe and efficient movement of persons, bikes, and motor vehicles.  As is the case with any demonstration or group, contingency plans are also developed; we start from the premise of limiting formal enforcement action, if possible (i.e., tickets or arrests), but when behavior is risky or dangerous enforcement must be considered.

The abbreviated version of what took place on Monday, 7/6/15, is that a protest and mock vehicular funeral procession took place.  It started at roughly 5pm and culminated by 8pm.  During that span of time, 18 police officers were used to monitor the crowd/divert traffic/escort slow moving vehicles and make sure that everyone involved---participants or otherwise--were kept safe.  Given the fact that there was talk of slowing down or impeding traffic on the beltline, a tow truck was also placed on the ready as the very notion of tying up a major artery of traffic was nonnegotiable.

(It should be noted that spontaneous rallies which occurred on Williamson Street and a residential street on the near West side of Madison were not vetted by a prior street use permit and individuals standing in the roadways at both locations were allowed to do so without being ticketed.  In the Williamson Street gathering, traffic was diverted around the demonstration for a period of time and then the organizers were warned to get moving or face the prospect of being cited.)

My objection with this particular planned action lies with the staging of a motorized mock funeral procession.  When cars are enabled by a promoter who places bona fide funeral flags on the various cars and encourages those who are in solidarity with the cause to disregard red traffic signals, this creates a risky situation.  It has been increasingly challenging to educate our motoring public on the appropriate do's and don'ts of funeral processions when directed and led by professionals; the inherent danger of having cars rolling through red lights poses a substantial risk of harm.  It also has a deleterious effect on respect for the rule-of-law for those who are in compliance with the authentic responsibilities to yield under the appropriate circumstances.  In the mock procession which occurred on 7/6, there were over 20 witnessed moving traffic violations associated with this event.

There is a city ordinance which adopts Wisconsin state statute 346.20(3) that prohibits operators of vehicles securing the right-of-way meant for funeral processions.  Specifically:

(3)  Operators of vehicles not a part of a funeral procession or military convoy shall not form a procession or convoy and have their headlights lighted for the purpose of securing the right-of-way granted by this section to funeral processions or military convoys.*

(*It should be noted that the actual funeral procession already took place on 3/14/15).

It is not my intent to impede First Amendment rights of speech and assembly.  This is an important constitutional right in which MPD always tend to err on the side of those who are expressing this prerogative.  We have consistently demonstrated support for this important liberty by withholding citations for many violations of law or ordinances that have been described herein.  But to the individual(s) who promoted and enabled what I view as hazardous moving traffic violations, a citation will be drafted.   For those who would exert their influence on others to act on principle(s), I applaud your strength of conviction; but with that moral fortitude comes the natural consequences for taking on that fight.  When I was recently watching the dynamics of a 5-year-old pawing through the various candies at the checkout section of a grocery store, the parent involved must have warned the child at least a half-dozen times to stop the behavior.  All of the threats to punish went unheeded; in fact, the parent allowed the activity to persist and then surrendered and bought the child some candy in order to cease and desist!  I cannot let the same be said for understanding that there are consequences for foreseeable behavior which exceed the bounds of reasonableness.

In a totally unrelated matter, another topical event made an overwhelming appearance in my email and calls to my cell while on vacation---what is MPD's position as a "sanctuary city" given the tragic events of what recently occurred in San Francisco?

Madison may be thought to be a "sanctuary city" but that is a legal fiction of sorts.  We are not.  The only tangible legislation to be found on this subject goes back to a 2010 Council resolution which was basically done to support---philosophically--the MPD policy of not using alien status as a means of probative inquiry in the normal course of our doing business.  In the past, some communities were using alien status as a means for pulling over people (i.e., profiling) and then offering them up to, then "Customs" (now Immigration and Customs Enforcement or ICE) for deportation.

MPD does not look for means to deport people.  However, we do hold people accountable for their criminal conduct.  If the act(s) are egregious, we certainly cooperate with ICE (and will continue to do so) for acts that are worthy of deportation.  Theoretically, it actually becomes more of an issue for the Sheriff's of our lands; once someone is turned over to the custody and control of the jail, the technical burden is then on them to run the subject(s) for alien status and then notify ICE.  I have instructed my Command Staff to notify our ICE regional office (Chicago), should we make an arrest of significance and learn through our investigation that the person is here illegally.  That way, it cannot be said that we did not make a good faith attempt to inform, even if someone else down the line neglects or chooses to not make that notification.

MPD will not thrust itself into the eye of the immigration storm; that is best left to those who should be crafting (at the federal level) an immigration policy for the nation.  My take as Chief is that I want those who live and work in Madison--everyone--to be included in the umbrella of public safety.  I am sure that we have people living in the shadows who are victims or witnesses of crime(s) that go unreported as the individual(s) do not want to run the risk of deportation.  But when serious crimes are committed---either as a single act or if there is a pattern of habitual criminality--those people will be arrested and we will definitely cooperate with ICE to secure their removal.

Posted by: Chief Koval

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