Friday, February 13, 2009

Censure issued to Marshfield Chief for comments on understaffed dispatch

Last month Marshfield Police Chief Joe Stroik was quoted in the Wisconsin Rapids Tribune on his opinion regarding the Wood County Dispatch Center. Stroik made comments about how he thought some shifts were dangerously understaffed. On Tuesday, the Wood County Public Safety Committee approved a letter of censure be sent to the Chief for his comments.

With the letter of censure, the county’s lawyers are suggesting that the Chief’s comments could be used in court if someone sued the county for negligence. But we should all be asking why our local governments are fearing lawsuits more than taking action to fix public safety issues. The Chief’s opinion should be evaluated on the basis of professional standards rather than the potential for liability.

The reality of the legal aspect of this issue goes like this: “If plaintiffs’ counsel, such as the ACLU, introduced statements such as Chief Stroik’s in a civil rights case, the statements would still have to be evaluated for accuracy,” said Laurence Dupuis the ACLU of Wisconsin’s Legal Director. “On the other hand, if the Public Safety Committee tries to prevent the Marshfield Police Chief from pointing out what he believes are deficiencies in the dispatch service, it could be argued that the County is guilty of recklessness and therefore potentially liable for expensive punitive damages,” Dupuis continued.

“The ACLU of Wisconsin believes that residents who have had their constitutional rights violated should have their day in court. It also believes that when a county’s decisions are made on the basis of litigation strategy instead of professional standards, then the public is poorly served,” said ACLU of Wisconsin Executive Director, Chris Ahmuty.