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September 2014

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Town of Mukwonago police chief under scrutiny

Complaint: Financial incentive program for issuing citations

Town of Mukwonago - In a matter Town Attorney John Macy called "very serious," town police officer Chris Heckman returns to the Police Commission at 7 p.m. Feb. 13 with complaints against Police Chief Tom Czarnecki and Sgt. Eric Schmidt.

When Heckman addressed the commission in December with allegations that Czarnecki provided monetary rewards to officers for issuing citations or making arrests, the document Heckman presented did not specify what law had been violated. Specific steps are required before a formal hearing can be held, Macy told the commission. Heckman was given 30 days to specify the law violation within the document before it could be determined whether the matter will go to a formal hearing.

In a narrative of the report obtained by the Mukwonago Chief through an open-records request, Heckman stated he believed the acts "violate law or show at least a mismanagement or abuse of authority and may, in some circumstances, cause a waste of public funds or a danger to public safety."

According to Heckman's complaint, Czarnecki and Schmidt "have pushed officers to issue more citations," stating things such as, "if you can issue a citation, you should issue a citation" and "we need to issue more citations to increase revenue brought in by the Police Department."

Heckman also alleges that Czarnecki proposed an incentive program in which "he offered to personally pay the officer who issued the most citations every month the sum of $10 and the officer who issued the most of a certain type of citation … each month another $10."

According to the complaint, Heckman said he approached Czarnecki about the legality of the program.

"Chief Czarnecki stated he did not believe it was illegal, but stated it may be questionable ethically," the report said. "After obtaining some assistance, Chief Czarnecki was informed this practice was illegal, and it was subsequently dropped, although he stated it was only due to complaints about the program."

When contacted about the incentives, Czarnecki said, "No officers received any compensation for any incentive program."

Time off work

Heckman also claims Czarnecki placed him off duty as a disciplinary action and forced him to use sick pay and holiday pay while not working.

Dan Vliet, Czarnecki's attorney, told Police Commission members in December that Czarnecki did not discipline Heckman as stated. Instead, Heckman was not working because of an issue with his hearing, since Heckman wears hearing aids, which necessitated a hearing test, he said.

Vliet said there was "no unpaid suspension," and maintained that Heckman was placed on sick leave and then paid administrative leave for the safety of the department while it tried to get the necessary hearing tests done.

The report indicates Czarnecki sent an email to officers on July 7, 2012, regarding mandatory hearing tests to establish "baseline" hearing levels as a means of establishing liability coverage for the town in case officers sustain hearing damage while working.

Heckman started with the department in 2002 with a hearing loss and hearing aids, "which was known to everyone," he wrote in the report. He said he has performed all his duties without complaint. After he was hired, a new job description with hearing standards "derived from researching other departments" to determine a normal standard, was implemented without Heckman's knowledge and was never presented to the union, the report alleges.

According to the complaint, Czarnecki informed Heckman that he would not be allowed to work if he did not meet the new standard, and Heckman would have to use earned benefit time if he wanted to be paid. Heckman failed the first test done without his hearing aids. He was tested by an audiologist on Aug. 27, 2012, with hearing aids and "by manually adjusting the hearing aid volume, I was able to reach the new standard created by the new job description in both ears."

However, Heckman claims the town would not accept his offer to supply the results of this hearing test, saying it would schedule its own testing. After retesting he met the standard in his left ear, but was below the standard in his right ear.

In September 2012 Czarnecki informed Heckman that he would not be allowed to work because he had not met the hearing standard. Heckman said he was forced to "use accrued benefit time to continue receiving pay." Additional hearing tests followed, with results sent to the Town of Mukwonago. On Nov. 16, 2012, the union attorney requested Heckman be placed on administrative leave with pay, which Czarnecki agreed to if Heckman would agree to "other terms, including further testing."

"We have a responsibility to ensure the safety of officers and the public," Czarnecki explained. "Any testing done was to ensure that safety."

The narrative also indicated there were complaints regarding overtime assignments, yearly shift selection and selective treatment, among other incidents, which Heckman said he believes show "what appears to be a pattern of selective treatment."

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