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Perils of police work in an armed society PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 20 July 2016 18:13

Police officers and firefighters of the City of Port Washington got a deserved pat on the back last week in a letter praising their good work signed by every member of the Police and Fire Commission and published in Ozaukee Press.

It was a gesture of support at a time of appalling violence involving law enforcement personnel—a time when in some American cities police officers have been murdered just because they were police officers and police officers have been accused of murdering citizens. 

Port Washington and the other small communities of Ozaukee County and the surrounding area are far removed geographically and socially from this uncivilized mayhem, and yet even here a heightened sense of anxiety shadows service in police departments.

One of the reasons these are trying times to be a police officer in America is that more Americans than ever before are carrying guns. Increasingly permissive state laws loosening concealed-carry regulations and allowing open carrying of firearms have given every interaction between police and citizens, no matter how minor or apparently peaceful, the potential to be an armed encounter.

Even in quiet Port Washington, police officers have to be aware that in any traffic stop, response to a domestic argument or confrontation with a drunken or disorderly person they could be dealing with an individual legally armed with a deadly weapon.

A study reported in the American Journal of Public Health found that police were more likely to be killed in states with a high rate of gun ownership.

Using data from the F.B.I. and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, researchers found a substantially higher rate of homicides of law enforcement personnel in the states with the highest gun ownership compared to other states.

“We see that the same states that are the top gun-owning states are also the top states for officer homicide,” said the report’s lead author.

(Wisconsin has the 12th highest gun ownership rate in the nation.)

The aftermath of the sniper-killing of five Dallas police officers guarding a demonstration and the worries voiced by Cleveland police ahead of this week’s Republican convention drew attention to yet another alarming consequence of the relentless push by state legislatures to extend gun rights to extremes—the threat to the safety of the public and police posed by so-called open carry.

The term refers to laws in a number of states that specifically permit openly carrying loaded sidearms and rifles intended not for hunting but for shooting people when deemed necessary for self-defense.

The Dallas demonstration attracted a number of gun owners openly carrying pistols and AR-15-style assault rifles. Some wore camouflage clothing; some carried gas masks and other military-type paraphernalia.

It was obvious this was intended to be an in-your-face flaunting of Second Amendment rights, but it was described by spokesmen for the gun toters as an example of armed citizens standing by to help police deal with armed bad actors.

According to police officials quoted in news stories, when the shooting started the gun-carrying would-be vigilantes fled with the rest of the crowd, leaving police, who were desperate to find the source of the shooting that was killing their fellow officers, trying to discern whether these armed and dangerous-looking people were shooters or just citizens running for their lives.

In Cleveland, open-carry zealots have promised to turn out in large numbers for the presidential nominating convention, where demonstrations are expected. Several gave a preview to news media on Sunday, with assault rifles hanging on slings over their shoulders and handguns in holsters strapped on their legs gunfighter style. Cleveland’s police chief has been articulate in expressing his dismay. The president of the police union asked the governor of Ohio to rescind the state’s open-carry law during the convention. 

Situations like these help explain why law enforcement organizations have become ardent opponents of proposals to make laws regulating where and how firearms may be carried even more permissive.

Those who support further widening of gun rights are wont to resurrect the gun lobby mantra that society is safer when the citizenry is armed.

There is no credible evidence to support that, but there is plenty of evidence that the progressive easing of gun-carry laws has made those citizens working as law enforcement officers less safe.

Answer Union Cemetery’s call PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 13 July 2016 17:20

If by some time-travel magic Port Washington residents dating back to the 19th century who buried their loved ones in Union Cemetery could see the haunting photograph on the front news page of last week’s Ozaukee Press, some would surely be moved to tears.

The picture shows the rolling grounds of the west-side cemetery, once a carefully tended landscape emblematic of peace and dignity, in a forlorn state, so overgrown that grave markers are obscured by weeds and uncut grass.

This is sad not just for the families of those interred in the 162-year-old cemetery, but for the entire community. As institutions of civilization that express respect for the contributions of those who have passed through this life, cemeteries are intrinsic threads in the fabric of a community—and communities should not abide their neglect.

Among the graves in Union Cemetery are those of generations of Port Washington area families, including the city’s builders and history makers, of veterans of many wars, including the Civil War and the Spanish-American War, and even some of the victims of the most deadly shipwreck along the Port shore, the sinking of the steamer Toledo in 1856. 

The sad state of the cemetery just a block off the main thoroughfare to the downtown, Grand Avenue, is a call to the city to take responsibility for its care. 

The Port Washington Cemetery Association has for ages carried that burden. But the organization, with little income from families buying its few remaining plots, is broke and unable to provide the care it promised those who bought grave sites in the past. 

The burden of managing the organization’s dwindling financial resources and tending to its maintenance is borne by Craig Heatwole, who describes himself as “president, secretary, treasurer and chief groundskeeper” of the association. Heatwole has been spending hours each week dutifully trying to carry out an impossible mission for one person—maintaining eight acres of cemetery grounds.

The cemetery needs a short-term fix—a thorough clean-up by city crews. Then it needs a long-term plan to ensure its care into the future. Volunteers could certainly play a role in this; already some have come forward in response to last week’s Press story about the cemetery’s plight. But the plan needs the structure and dependable organization that only the city can give.

It’s not at all uncommon for municipalities to care for, or even own, cemeteries within their borders. A nearby example is the Village of Grafton, which owns and maintains Woodlawn Cemetery.

Yes, this is counter to Port Washington’s trend, as in other municipalities, toward off-loading some services normally provided by government to volunteers and civic organizations, but Union Cemetery deserves to be an exception. 

Its ranks of stone markers, even those corroded and tilted by the years, speak to the history of Port Washington, and they, and the people they represent, deserve the honor of proper attention by this community.

The no-tax burden PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 06 July 2016 16:57

The rigid ideology practiced by Wisconsin’s governor and legislature has exacted a high price from state taxpayers in legal expenses to defend the dubious constitutionality of laws regulating union rights, legislative districts, voter ID and clinics that perform abortions. In the latest example, taxpayers will have to pay attorney fees of $1 million or more as a result of the U.S. Supreme Court’s affirmation of a federal court decision declaring Wisconsin’s law restricting abortion clinics unconstitutional.

The anti-tax ideology that Gov. Scott Walker clings to even in situations where it defies reason is costing Wisconsin residents in another way—in the toll levied on the state’s economy and its individual citizens by the failure to fund road maintenance and repair.

The delay of necessary road work is impacting the people of Wisconsin with vehicle accidents, injuries, repairs and the frustration and financial cost imposed by highway and street congestion. And the outlook is for more of the same—only worse.

There is no plan to address the highway funding shortfall, except the governor’s proposal to borrow an additional $850 million as a partial catch-up. Legislators of both parties oppose the idea because the state is already so deep in highway debt that more than 20% of the transportation fund is being spent per year on debt service.

Meanwhile the obvious, effective, fiscally responsible and easy solution to the problem remains barricaded by the governor’s opposition and veto power: raising the gas tax.

Wisconsin’s fuel tax has not changed in more than a decade. It has not been indexed for inflation since 2006, meaning that it has been decreasing in real terms every year. The improved fuel efficiency of vehicles has further diminished gas tax collections.

Aside from the governor, it is hard to find much opposition to a fuel-tax solution to the state’s road problems. The transportation secretary the governor appointed, Mark Gottlieb (a former mayor of Port Washington), has recommended a gas tax increase; legislators, business leaders and economists support it. It would not be surprising to find that a large percentage of the drivers who would have to pay it favor a modest gas tax increase to alleviate some of the frustrations they face on the state’s roads.

A 5-cent-per-gallon fuel tax increase would go a long way toward getting deferred maintenance and construction projects moving faster. An analysis by former UWM economics and business professors shows that a 10-cent increase would balance the transportation budget.

The governor refuses to consider this revenue source because it is spelled t-a-x, even though it is a tax in name only. It is really a highway user fee.

When it comes to road funding, anti-tax purity is an indulgence Wisconsin can’t afford. The state is failing to keep pace with other midwestern states in economic growth—growth that requires a smooth-running, up-to-date transportation infrastructure.

With job creation also lagging behind neighboring states, Wisconsin is missing out on the auxiliary benefit of investment in transportation infrastructure—the type of economic stimulus economists consider most effective. Road projects accomplish needed work that benefits the public while generating good paying jobs and employer profits.

Much has been made of the major freeway and highway widening projects that have been delayed by the funding shortfall. Transportation spending is heavily skewed toward this new construction in Wisconsin, and critics have said, with justification in some cases, that these projects are too grandiose or altogether unnecessary. 

The impact of lagging highway work, however, is felt most by drivers on local roads, which carry more than 40% of the state’s highway traffic but receive only 30% of state road funding. Municipalities need state aid to keep their streets, highways and roads in safe driving condition; Wisconsin is failing to meet that responsibility.

In explaining his unyielding position on taxes, Gov. Walker asserts that all taxes are burdens on citizens. Some certainly are. But rather than imposing a burden, a reasonable fuel tax increase would relieve burdens, the burden of the cost of excessive debt and the burden of traveling on inefficient, uncomfortable and, in many cases, dangerous roads.

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