Safety meeting at the B&GC – Police chief says “Call, call, call”
At tonight’s safety meeting which was held at the Boys & Girls Club, 1330 – 52nd Street, two alderpersons hosted. Chris Schwartz, alderperson for the 2nd district, and Patrick Juliana, alderperson for the 7th district, were the two organizers for the meeting. Police Chief John Morrissey was also in attendance, as well as Captain Edo Maccari, 2nd shift commander, Ron Francis, one of the crime prevention officers, and gang officer, Leo Viola. About twenty citizens were in attendance.
Morrissey stated that there are over 87,000 calls to the police each year. He explained the command of the department. Captain Maccari is in charge of 44 officers on second shift. Morrissey stated that one of the complaints they get a lot is “Why do the dispatchers ask so many questions?” The answer is for the officer’s safety and to get as much information as possible before the officer arrives. The dispatchers work for the county; they have their own separate director. Morrissey stated that he has no authority to discipline them. But, he and Schwartz serve on the Joint Services Board, and if any complaints ever get to their level, they will hear them.
“There are 199 policemen in the city,” said Morrissey. “That includes the brand new guy that was just hired on October 16th. There are 21 out on extended medical leave, 11 in the police academy. That makes 32, 17% that are not there. There are 16 to 20 officers out on the road at one time, over three shifts, to cover the entire city. We go way west of the I now. When we run saturation patrols, we have to pay overtime or take officers from other areas.”
Juliana discussed his initiative in drafting an ordinance to license landlords. “Five percent of the landlords create 100% of the problems,” he said. This will be a minimal cost, possibly $1 to $2 to $3/month. He said that other municipalities’ ordinances were reviewed, namely Waukegan’s. Absentee landlords come from as far away as Michigan, Ohio, Florida, and Texas. Foreclosed homes add another bit of complexity to the equation.
“Don’t get me wrong,” he said. “I have nothing against landlords. I am a landlord myself. But, I have a zero tolerance policy.” There is one woman in town who owns or manages 170 properties. A company called Landquest buys and sells properties. They were operating in Waukegan; now they are here in Kenosha. “Adopting an ordinance will help creative a positive atmosphere with low crime, the housing stock will be at a better level, you will be able to demand more money, and have less headaches,” said Juliana. Morrissey agreed that much stronger landlord enforcement is needed.
Juliana stated that both his and Alderperson’s Schwartz’s districts have a high percentage of rental units. He said that there were 18,000 rental units in Kenosha. He said, “Neighborhoods don’t change people, but people change neighborhoods.”
John Fox said that it’s easy for people to come to Kenosha from the south and start receiving services immediately. “Why is there no waiting period?” he asked. Juliana replied that the Kenosha Housing Authority is not a city entity. Yes, they work out of City Hall, but the federal government pays for the housing. When people get housing vouchers, they take precedence over those who don’t have them, plus they can use them anywhere in the United States (even Hawaii!). Then, Fox wanted to know if there were any other programs with the same type of assistance using Kenosha dollars. Juliana wasn’t sure; he thought he heard that there is an entity in Fond du Lac, but it could just be hearsay.
Deborah Paulsen, a resident of the 5th district, wanted to know what was being done to address the issue of what happens when people report their bad neighbors and retaliation and harassment begins, when neighbors form their own vigilante groups. Morrissey said that there are some stronger neighborhood watch groups. He wanted to know which ones in particular. Restraining orders can be obtained for harassment issues. “But, as we saw in Brookfield, restraining orders are only as good as the people who wrote them, and the people who enforce them.” Francis said that he heard of a problem with one black captain, but he’s not in the program any longer.
The same woman questioned further, “What do you do when there is a family element, when they get together with their friends?” Morrissey said that people are charged if the behavior can be proven. Cameras are being used; people are being arrested. “Pictures are worth a thousand words.” Morrissey said that it takes two tickets to a single residence in order for it to be designated as a nuisance property.
Irene Santos talked about problems near her home (56th Street and 19th Avenue) with groups of 14 to 18 kids skateboarding in the street with their pants down. Cars come down the street, and the kids don’t move. She said that this happens almost every night. It has gotten so bad that she is thinking of moving after having lived there for 33 years. One of her neighbors confirmed what she said. Schwartz said that half of the problem at that property has been resolved, the property maintenance issue. Now, the tenant issue needs to be worked on.
Another question had to do with what ordinances are on the books as far as obscenities, fighting, “sailor talk,” etc. Morrissey said that there are ordinances regarding disorderly conduct and obscene language. “But, they require a complaint be filed. If officers arrive, they have to observe the behavior. If the kids scatter like rats, and the officers don’t observe anything, then a complaint by a citizen needs to be filed and signed. If it goes to court, the judge wants to know who was offended by the behavior.” He said that citizens can also request that they meet the officer somewhere else; the officer doesn’t need to necessarily come to your house to take a complaint. Or, citizens can come down to the police station and file their complaints.
Morrissey said that he has told his officers to write tickets for walking in the streets and for skateboarding in the streets. Kids have to be 12 years or older in order for a police officer to write a ticket. “Constant pressure needs to be put on. But, remember, that calls need to be handled in priority order. But, call, call, call. It’s not bothering us. We get over 300 calls a day. We will be focusing on that area.”
A gentleman asked about calling on the Fourth of July for fireworks. “Should we just not even bother calling?” Morrissey said, “No, call, if you have a specific address. The ordinance was changed, and the Fire Department has been given the authority to enforce fireworks violations as well.”
One woman wanted to know what happens when a complaint is written. Morrissey replied that tickets get issued, and then they get forwarded to the District Attorney’s Office. If municipal tickets are written, they go to municipal court. But, the DA’s Office may not charge the person. Sometimes, the person doesn’t want to come to court, and the ticket gets dismissed.
Fox wanted to know, “If there is a problem house, if the person is receiving assistance, wouldn’t there be a way that they could be ousted because they were found to be violating their agreement?” Morrissey said that they work with Donna Cook from the Kenosha Housing Authority, and they have lists of people who are receiving assistance. They know who those people are; they have the addresses, and they will check to see if they are on assistance.
Morrissey said that he met with Mayor Keith Bosman last week, and he believes that the mayor is adding another building inspector in next year’s budget to assist the police officers on second shift when they gain access to a home with violations. They can then get the inspector in there.
Then, Officer Viola spoke about gangs. “It’s different now than it was back in the 80′s and 90′s. There was a gang culture back then. There was pride, the gang members wore certain colors, etc. Now, there is not so much organized gang activity. Kids ages 15, 16, and 17 years old, hang out and cause trouble. They are not necessarily gangs. They operate in a group, they do illegal activities, drugs, vandalism, beatings. They are hard to identify. They are not so open. They don’t wear colors. They commit crimes in groups. There are powers in numbers. They do intimidation things. There are definitely gangs in Kenosha. There have been many beatings done by middle school- and high school-age kids. They are not part of a set gang; they don’t call themselves something. There are not chiefs and hierarchies.”
Morrissey then asked Viola to differentiate between graffiti and tags. “How can you tell if graffiti is gang-related?” Viola replied that, “A tagger does artistic graffiti. They are basically artists, the graffiti is colorful, with bubbly letters. Gang-related graffiti is basically black, minimalistic, stick figures, numbers, pitchforks and crowns, simple script letters, not artistic.” He said there are countless pictures on line. Or, citizens can call him, and he’ll come and look at it, and let you know if it’s gang-related. Taggers typically put their graffiti in visible places vs. private properties. They adhere to a higher standard. They stay away from people’s private property. Schwartz heard that it was one of the worst years for graffiti. She encouraged citizens to call the city inspector’s office. “The quicker it gets cleaned up, the less likely it is to reoccur,” she said.
Viola also encouraged citizens to call. “Call as soon as the activity starts. Call us as it accelerates. Or, come to the police department and file the complaint there. They are easy to identify. The more descriptive, the better.”
One citizen said that home ownership makes the difference. “Things do turn around,” he said. He was offering encouragement to those whose neighborhoods were less than desirable. Morrissey agreed. “It takes perserverance. If you’re not getting the service you feel you need, call. If the officer is not coming, call the captain. Neighborhood Watches are the most important thing. If you don’t have a neighborhood watch group in your neighborhood, create one.”
Schwartz said that a perfect example of how an area can get turned around is Union Park. Before she came to office as an alderperson, there were major problems there. The neighborhood watch group came in and worked cleaning up the area. There are four or five neighborhood watch programs. “It’s all about working together and helping the Kenosha Police Department out,” she said.
Another lady talked about the problem of loose dogs in her area. She said that dogs have attacked their own dog and her husband. Morrissey replied that the Community Service Officer program has written hundreds more tickets. They will watch the area. He stated that the Safe Harbor representative told him he was pleased with the turnaround. Morrissey encouraged calling in with the address of where the dog lives. They are also getting more strict with dog licenses and rabies checks.
The question was raised, “If a person signs a complaint, does the person get the information?” Morrissey said that the short answer was yes. They can keep the information confidential up to a point. If the case goes to trial, the person can request a copy. However, he said that there is less retaliation than people fear.
Lastly, John Fox relayed a story of something he witnessed two Saturdays ago downtown. He saw an individual in a vacant store, and then on the roof, and he called the police. He said that he heard broken glass. They came and investigated and said that they found no forced entry. Fox was concerned because his business is right next door, and he was afraid that a fire could be set. The police could not contact the key holder of the building, so they left. Morrissey said that possibly his concern needed to be addressed with a supervisor because it could have been a burglary in progress. City Development needed to be contacted, so that they could find the key holder, gain access to the building, and investigate further.
Schwartz thanked everyone for coming and encouraged all to work together and form neighborhood watches.
The Kenosha Police non-emergency number is: (262) 656-1234. To call the Neighborhood Watch officers, dial: (262) 657-3937. Their e-mail address is: [email protected] if you’d like to e-mail them instead. To reach Alderperson Chris Schwartz, dial: (262) 620-3727, and to reach Alderperson Patrick Juliana, dial: (262) 652-3780.