Wisconsin Justice Initiative is asking the Common Council to repeal a resolution asking the state for authorization to add a municipal court surcharge to pay for police body cameras.
The surcharge would not directly benefit the offender or Municipal Court and would increase pressure on police and municipal judges to ensure that the courts create enough revenue to meet the city's fiscal obligation to am outside vendor, according to WJI.
"Such a surcharge would not be related to any particular municipal ordinance violation, would create a precedent for using surcharges to pay for standard police costs (why not a surcharge to pay for police officers' shoes?), and would fall disproportionately on some of the poorest residents of the city," WJI wrote in a letter to Common Council President Michael J. Murphy.
"The surcharge also would violate the spirit, if not the letter, of a new 'Dear Colleague' letter from the US Department of Justice," WJI wrote. "That letter expresses deep concern about the treatment of indigent defendants in courts across the country and reads in part, 'to the extent that these (forfeiture imposition and collection) practices are geared not toward addressing public safety, but rather toward raising revenue, they can cast doubt on the impartiality of the tribunal and erode trust between local governments and their constituents.'"
Ald. Terry Witkowski, who sponsored the resolution and was provided with a copy of the letter to Murphy, said in an email that the DOJ's letter was "irrelevant to this discussion as it speaks to safe guards (sic) already in place to guard against the concerns you write about. It does not say that fees should not be a part of court costs"
"If the state takes any action to help Milwaukee with funding body cameras, please let me know," he wrote. "I would be shocked that they would help."
Gretchen Schuldt is executive director of the Wisconsin Justice Initiative.
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