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Wisconsin Law Enforcement Memorial must be respected, protected

By: Steve Schuster, [email protected]//October 11, 2023//

Wisconsin Law Enforcement Memorial

Wisconsin Law Enforcement Memorial. Photo Courtesy of Wis. Rep. Barbara Dittrich

Wisconsin Law Enforcement Memorial must be respected, protected

By: Steve Schuster, [email protected]//October 11, 2023//

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Steve Schuster is the managing editor at the Wisconsin Law Journal. He can be reached at [email protected]

Everyday when law enforcement officials say goodbye to their spouses and kids to watch our backs, they face violent criminals, witness human tragedy and see the very worst in humanity. When duty calls each time, they never know if they will come home that night to their families — and the one monument in Madison that pays tribute to those who made the ultimate sacrifice has seen everything from insult to injury in years worth of vandalism and destruction of property.

The most recent incident involved a 7-year-old child who took a brown crayon, damaging the memorial during the weekend of Sept. 30 – Oct. 1.

Wisconsin Department of Administration officials tell the Wisconsin Law Journal that the parents of the 7 year old weren’t paying attention to their child, who damaged the memorial. To date, those parents have not been charged, however, Wisconsin taxpayers have to foot the bill for the facilities service team who were required to clean up the most recent mess.

Wisconsin Law Enforcement Memorial
Wisconsin Law Enforcement Memorial. Photo Courtesy of Rep. Barbara Dittrich

Prior to the incident earlier this month, the memorial has been no stranger to vandalism.

Green Bay Police Officer Craig Kolbeck, who currently serves as chair of the Wisconsin Law Enforcement Memorial, told the Wisconsin Law Journal on Monday that the memorial has been vandalized at least a half-dozen times. A search of headlines revealed only a couple of instances have been covered by the mainstream media.

“I’m bothered by it. Even as a child you should be taught not to damage other people’s property. It wasn’t like the parents weren’t watching the child for 30 seconds. An entire section of the memorial was scribbled out on a new panel that had just been replaced from previous vandalism,” Officer Kolbeck said, during a Wisconsin Law Journal interview.

Sen. Andre Jacque (R-1st Senate District/Northeast Wisconsin) agreed.

“Parents have responsibility for their children to the extent that any sort of destruction of property going on their watch or with their encouragement. I think it is essential we send a message that destruction of property can’t be tolerated,” Jacque said.

And while this time it was only a crayon, previous incidents at the memorial have been worse:

2017 – The memorial was vandalized with references to protests in St. Louis, TMJ4 reported.

2020 – A Black Lives Matter leader, Jordan A. King of Verona, struck the Wisconsin Law Enforcement Memorial with a sledge hammer, The Wisconsin State Journal Reported.

“It’s hard to come up with the right words of contempt for the disgust you feel when those who have given their lives in defense of our freedoms and willingly going into danger having their memory defaced and dishonored in this way is unacceptable for a society. It’s critical we send a strong message this is not acceptable in public discourse to take violent actions to destroy the history that belongs to all of us in terms honoring the memory of those who have basically been willing to pay for their oath of office with their very lives,” Jacque added.

These brave men and women honored at the memorial were not just police officers. They were mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, husbands and wives, sisters and brothers, friends and neighbors. As they lay their lives on the thin blue line, their oath to protect and serve has in several instances turned into making the ultimate sacrifice — their very own lives. However, their deaths were not in vain. As a result, our communities are better, safer places to live for all Wisconsinites.

In Wisconsin’s Capitol City, Wisconsinites recognize these brave men and women through the memorial built back in 1991, which shows just how thin the thin blue line really is for these officers who have lost their lives.

While these law enforcement officers face our fears and run into danger, some don’t make it out alive. Although no memorial will ever fill the void left by the loss of these courageous men and women, the monument in Madison serves a reminder to all of us that those who bear the weight of the badge have risk as a constant companion.

We all need to take a step back and understand that those who take the oath to protect and serve are part of something much greater than any one individual. And, as we enter uncertain times with war in the Middle East that may spill over to U.S. soil, now more than ever before to protect the law enforcement memorial in Madison from any further harm.

FBI Statement
FBI statement on threats to homeland Oct. 9, 2023.

Jacque said he is troubled by not only the damage to the law enforcement memorial, but also by the current Wisconsin statutes that don’t hold people accountable to the extent that they should.

“It is alarming the number of times we have had referral from law enforcement for defacement of property, where there is no accountability,” Jacque said.

Fond du Lac County District Attorney Eric Toney, who serves as president of the Wisconsin District Attorney’s Association, is calling for additional measures to be taken to protect the memorial.

“The memorial represents those who made the ultimate sacrifice to make our communities safe. It should be revered. There needs to be a better plan so that this type of damage doesn’t happen again,” Toney said.

“That memorial may be small, but it sure is a powerful way to honor those officers, their families and agencies. Our state proudly stands with law enforcement,” Toney added.

According to Jacque, he, along with legislative colleagues, have introduced a measure during the last legislative session that would have increased accountability for those who damage public monuments.

Jacque said the measure which increased the penalty for destruction of public monuments had bipartisan support from both chambers, but Gov. Tony Evers vetoed the legislation.

Evers deferred questions about the memorial to the Department of Administration, and deferred questions about the veto to the Governor’s veto message.

The message says the measure was vetoed because “the behavior this bill purports to address is already prohibited and punishable under current law.”

Jacque said he intends to reintroduce a similar measure this session.

Other legislators have weighed in about the recent incident in Madison.

Wisconsin Rep. Barbara Dittrich (R-Oconomowoc) issued a statement Oct. 2 after the recent damage to the memorial.

“On Monday morning, October 2, 2023, staff approached the Capitol to once again see damage to the Wisconsin Law Enforcement Memorial on the Capitol Square. Names, words of inspiration, and in particular, the word ‘service’ were scratched out with some sort of brown marker or crayon.

“Given the actual breaking of the stone of the memorial that occurred during the 2020 protest, which has now taken Wisconsin taxpayer dollars to restore, this was extremely upsetting to see. Our law enforcement officers deserve our support and respect as they put their lives on the line for the citizens in this state every day. They have also worked very hard to improve procedures, training, and protocol over the past three years. We cannot return to the days of violence, destruction, and hatred that divisively burned our communities in recent years,” Dittrich said.

“While I trust that the Wisconsin Department of Administration (DOA) will promptly work to remove this damage from the Memorial, I would like to hear what the Evers administration will do to prevent this from happening again,” Dittrich added.

DOA officials told the Wisconsin Law Journal on Monday that the crayon markings have been removed.

The Wisconsin Law Journal asked DOA why a press release was not issued regarding the recent property damage to the memorial. A DOA spokesperson responded, “we don’t issue a press release every time facilities management has to respond.”

DOA officials said that cameras are turned on at all times in various locations surrounding the memorial. The Wisconsin Law Journal submitted an open records request on Oct. 9 requesting video footage of the memorial damages earlier this month.

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