By John Diedrich of the Journal Sentinel
- Scott Walker says: Collective bargaining is fully intact
- Paul Ryan says: There are ‘riots’ at the Capitol
Gov. Scott Walker has exempted police officers, firefighters and state troopers from cuts in his budget-repair bill, saying those in public safety should be treated differently.
However, there are law enforcement officers – hundreds of them – who would see cuts if Walker’s bill becomes law.
Among those affected would be special agents at the state Department of Justice, Department of Natural Resources wardens, University of Wisconsin police officers and others.
Special agents, who work for the state Division of Criminal Investigation, often team up with local law enforcement and federal authorities on cases and do their own investigations. Their mission is to investigate crimes of a statewide importance.
“I think it is fair to say when it comes to major crimes committed in Wisconsin, probably the vast majority of them had DCI agents involved,” said former Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager, a Democrat. She is now a private lawyer who represents the state’s largest employee union, which includes certain law enforcement officers.
The last law enforcement officer killed in the city of Milwaukee was state special agent Jay Balchunas, who was working on a drug case when he was gunned down in 2004 at a gas station.
“They are the people who do narcotics investigations, homicide investigations, Internet crimes involving children investigations,” department spokesman Bill Cosh said of special agents.
Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen, who is in charge of the special agents, declined to comment Friday on fellow Republican Walker not exempting the agents.
Walker exempted “local law enforcement and fire employees, and state troopers and inspectors” from his bill.
Walker critics have charged that the governor exempted unions that supported him in the November election, although some police and firefighter groups backed Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, the Democrat in the race. Walker has dismissed that allegation, noting there are unions exempted in the bill that did not support him.
Walker said he exempted police officers, firefighters and state troopers because he could not risk public safety. He suggested Friday that including them in the bill could result in job actions, similar to what teachers have done in several districts, calling in sick and closing schools.
“I can’t afford to have any sort of disruption of service when it comes to public safety,” Walker told Wisconsin’s Morning News on WTMJ-AM (620). “I think it is a long-standing tradition in this state that we do treat public safety differently.”
Lautenschlager said if protecting public safety was the goal, all law enforcement should have been exempted.
“If he defines public safety officers in that limited way, I think he needs to educate himself of the obligations and duties of many public employees who are left out of that bill,” she said.
The state’s 100 special agents belong to a union that includes teachers and myriad state workers, called Wisconsin Professional Employees Council. Officials from that union did not return a call for comment.
About 180 DNR wardens also are not exempted under Walker’s bill. Wardens are sworn law enforcement officers who carry firearms and have arrest powers.
Besides enforcing natural resource laws, they are sometimes called on to assist local law enforcement officers and must act when they see crime, said DNR senior counsel Michael Lutz. Warden Jeremy Peery arrested the man who killed six hunters in 2004 and five years later apprehended an armed bank robber after a high-speed chase and gunbattle.
“The wardens in northern Wisconsin oftentime lend assistance simply because of the small number people covering such large areas,” Lautenschlager said.
The collection of law enforcement officers assembled to manage protests at the Capitol in recent days includes those whose benefits would be cut under the bill and others who would not.
All the agencies are rolling up overtime, but no estimates are being given. Officials said they will wait until the protests end to tally the figures.