A county level meeting at the Justice Center in Sparta, was held on August 28th, at 4:30 p.m., between Law Enforcement, the District Attorney, and the Circuit Court Judges, for the purpose of discussing bail amounts. The concern among law enforcement officers is that low bails result in rising crime rates and an inability to effectively protect victims. From the judges standpoint, they reiterated their
Over the past few years, drastic changes in bail procedures across the nation have facilitated the quick return of potentially dangerous criminals and those who repeatedly commit the same crimes. Law enforcement is struggling to see the benefits to our communities or victims, with any of these changes. Instead, they are seeing rising crime rates and an inability to effectively protect victims. This frustration with the judicial system is causing law enforcement officers to leave the career field.
The Monroe County law enforcement, along with the Monroe County district attorney, recently began a conversation with the Monroe County Circuit Court judges, regarding this issue. Specifically, attempts to address the lack of enforcement of bond violations, within the Courts. This creates several issues, including a lack of accountability for offenders, repeated crimes against the same victims, and increased danger to police officers and correctional officers, who are in repeated contact with the same offenders, often multiple times in a day.
According to Sparta Police Chief Emilee Nottestad, “This creates a unique problem for the City of Sparta. Because the jail is in our jurisdiction. When offenders are booked into jail and immediately released, they are released into our community, no matter what part of the county they originated from. Often, they have no place to go, some are intoxicated, high, or simply agitated regarding their arrest. Many times, they become a problem within the City of Sparta and our police department has to deal with that problem.”
Sheriff Wes Revels echoed this concern saying, “It puts an increased burden on the officers, having to rearrest and reprocess individuals.” The August 28th meeting was meant to constructively address these issues.
The meeting started out with Judge Todd Ziegler handing out a 7-page document, on what had been discussed in the previous meeting, between the same parties, on July 27th. Judge Ziegler made it clear that the judges are guided by the Wisconsin Constitution. Also distributed by Ziegler, was a map of surrounding counties and the percentage uptick in felony drug charges. “As we can all see from those maps, we’re not alone,” Judge Ziegler pointed out. “It’s not us that has an uptick in bail jumping charges, or felony drug charges. I am confident that a lot of the counties across the state are running into some of the same issues that we are.”
Judge Ziegler went on to state that the fact that they were all gathered and talking, and actually addressing the situation, was a positive move. “We are all here, looking for ideas and solutions to improve. In my16 plus years here, I have always appreciated that whenever there have been issues, with us [judges], justice department, or law enforcement, we all sit down and talk through the issues, until we reach a resolution that is best in the end. It doesn’t mean that everyone agrees 100 percent, but everyone is willing to give that [resolution] the full effort.” Judge Ziegler went on to emphasize that not every county does what Monroe County is doing. “All of us should all take credit for this fact that we are willing to meet and discuss these high-priority topics.”
Adding on to what Judge Ziegler had stated, Judge Radcliffe stated, “Everyone in this room has a different roll and a different stake and expertise, in what they bring to the table. Whether it is members of the public, law enforcement, our prosecutor, or the county board, everybody has a different perspective.” Judge Radcliffe continued, “Our [judges] perspective, our responsibility, [is that] we are the gatekeepers of the constitution and the Criminal Justice System. We need to be respectful of what we need to do, and respectful of what you need to do.” Judge Radcliffe went on to say that everyone at the meeting is responsible for keeping the community safer. He reiterated that the judges must follow the constitution.
Expressed by many of the law enforcement at the meeting was the growing concern over the sharp rise in crime for felony drug related charges. Monroe County has seen an increase of 197.47% since 2015. Surrounding counties also have staggering percentages. Juneau County, for the same time period, is up 220%; Richland County is up 560%; Crawford County has seen a 271.43% increase, while Vernon County is up 100%.
Sheriff Wes Revels spoke to issues that are brought up at local chief meetings, with bail jumping being the focus of his discussion. “Those repeat individuals that are constantly violating the conditions of their release and officers have to repeatedly deal with them on the streets.” Sheriff Revels continued informing the room about the cost of repeated arrests, booking times, transportation of repeat criminals, the man hours and the time, which is money, that officers spend on repeating the process over and over. “All of those things amount to a huge amount of our tax dollars, not to mention the safety issue for the officers.”
Sheriff Revels finished up by stating that there are between 40 to 60 of these repeat criminals in Monroe County, and that this specific issue is what started the ball rolling for the current meeting. A great concern, expressed by Sheriff Revels, was how the community perceives the Justice System, when they see these criminals back on the street so soon. Revels stated that the DA takes a lot of heat from community members. “We are just looking for a way to limit the amount of contacts we have with these individuals.”
The meeting lasted one hour and a half, with many people speaking up not only on their own behalf, with their issues, but what the other law enforcement people are facing, with iterations on how the community perceives what is happening within and to, the justice system. It was brought up a few times that legislation should be considered and brought forward, to address these specific issues that seem to be circling not just Monroe County, but many counties withing the state of Wisconsin. Judge Radcliffe stated that everyone should be very concerned about the incredible increases in felony drug arrest.
This meeting had a heavy feel to it from the get-go. Law enforcement is incredibly respectful of the judges. What I witnessed was another incredible dynamic of Monroe County, which was the setting aside of egos, for the overall concern of safety for the community. In listening to the judges, they have a steady course to navigate, using the Wisconsin Constitution as their compass.
It was brought up that Illinois has a different system, by which criminals either get bail or are denied; a simpler system that would most likely help out Wisconsin’s current and rising situation. Until legislation is changed, Monroe County residents should revel in the fact that their Justice system here is meeting, discussing and pushing for a safer community. The Herald will keep tabs on these meetings and report the progress in real time.
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