Two Madison police officers who used expletives and vulgar language to counter critics of the department on social media were disciplined in response to a citizen complaint about their posts.
Additionally, four officers who made inappropriate suggestions for dealing with the homeless population Downtown were sanctioned.
A July 18 complaint from former Madison Ald. Brenda Konkel questioned the comments made by Officers Dean Baldukas and Scott McConnell on two Change.org petitions.
One petition supported the department, the other one called for increased accountability from it. Both circulated online, collecting hundreds of signatures during a tense summer for community- police relations over concerns about officers’ use of force and alleged racial bias, as well as bad blood between Chief Mike Koval and the City Council over an outside review of the department.
McConnell’s two posts, one on each of the petitions, coarsely insulted “progressives” in one remark, while the other said, “You people go (expletive) yourselves.”
Baldukas posted his comment defending his fellow officers only on the pro-police petition.
“Glory-holing nincompoops who are out of touch with reality and common sense should focus on the good work done by officers on a daily basis, rather than whoring themselves to the media in order to stroke their egos and justify their puny existence,” said Baldukas, who sought the police chief’s position in 2013, claiming low officer morale. “Time to smell the salts, you dolts.”
An investigation by Professional Standards and Internal Affairs Lt. Amy Chamberlin found the officers violated a city administrative rule concerning inappropriate use of computer network resources — for using their city-issued email addresses in the posts — and police department procedure governing rules for off-duty social media use.
Those rules require personnel to represent the “core values” of the police department “even while using the internet for personal purposes” and whether an officer is on or off-duty, according to Chamberlin’s letter to Konkel reporting the results of the internal investigation, which Konkel shared Thursday with the Wisconsin State Journal.
“The content of the officers’ comments to both of the Change.org petitions did not reflect (the department’s) Core Values,” Chamberlin said, adding that, even though the officers were off-duty and not using the department’s computers, “(they) were not professional in their representation of the department in their statements.”
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A separate review by City Attorney Michael May found the discipline for the infractions ordered by the department did not violate the two officers’ free speech rights. The range of possible sanctions were verbal counseling, documented counseling, a letter of reprimand, suspension/reduction in rank and being fired, according to Sgt. Erik Fuhremann.
Based in part on prior discipline history for each officer, Koval gave McConnell two sanctions of documented counseling and Baldukas one sanction each of documented counseling and a letter of reprimand.
“I’m glad they acknowledged the activities of the officers were not acceptable and in fact a violation of the policy, but it seems like there are no real consequences for the behavior,” Konkel said. “Sounds like they got a stern talking to and that’s about it. No retraining or corrective behaviors are required. If that is all that happens, what prevents them, or others from doing this again in a year?”
In a separate matter, Central District Patrol Lt. Brian Austin investigated a so-called “whiteboard incident,” which took place in late August during a brainstorming session by officers in a common briefing room in the Central District station.
Using a dry-erase board, various officers posted ideas for dealing with problems involving homeless people congregating at the top of State Street.
The list started with serious ideas for discouraging loitering in the area, such as removing a low wall and installing decorative spikes in planters, according to a Sept. 7 Isthmus article. But later in the list, the suggestions became facetious, including what police leaders later described as attempts at dark humor such as “Burmese tiger pits,” “quicksand” and “lava.”
“Some of these suggestions violated the Madison Police Department’s Code of Conduct for Courtesy, Respect and Professional Conduct,” Austin wrote to Konkel.
Four officers found to have made inappropriate suggestions received documented counseling, said Austin, who declined to name them, citing “long-standing policy” for “this type of internal ... incident.”
That didn’t sit well with Konkel, an outspoken advocate for the homeless.
“I’m really worried that it was the Community Policing Team — the district problem-solvers — that made the notes on the white board,” Konkel said. “If so, that is significant and I think the public deserves to know (their names).”