Did Dane County, WI Cops Return To Work Too Soon After Policing DAPL?

 Dane County, Wisconsin (TFC)— Recently, Wisconsin’s Dane County Sheriff’s (DCS) Office responded to open records requests filed by The Fifth Column. These pertained to DCS’s Standing Rock deployment, which concluded in October 2016.

From October 9th-16th 2016, Dane County sent officers–alongside other Wisconsin authorities–in response to the Dakota Access Pipeline protests. The deployment was ordered under an EMAC (Emergency Management Assistance Compact), intended for “disaster” scenarios. The past use of EMAC for natural disasters–not protests–also added a unique layer of controversy.

EMAC allows a distressed state to request assistance from others whom voluntarily contribute resources. When a disaster’s scope strains logistics or manpower, EMAC deployments supplement. This once obscure contract between states was spotlighted by its activation during DAPL. Whether EMAC was appropriately issued–in this case to protect a corporate pipeline project on traditionally Native land–remains debated.

Dane County Sheriff’s, according to TFC requests, sent 13 personnel including one captain, a lieutenant, two sergeants, and nine deputies. These joined a Wisconsin State Patrol “Mobile Field Force” of 17, and authorities from three other departments. Although Dane County provided these details, the personnel remain unidentified.

According to documents, whoever those staff were “returned to work on their next scheduled work day following return from the deployment”. Whereas personnel ended their deployment on October 16th, over half the group–7–returned to work on the 17th. Another 6, however, started the following day on the 18th.

TFC writers also requested documents to clarify whether deputies were psych-screened post-deployment. However, similar to many departments, Dane County denied this portion due to confidentiality concerns. As such, it’s not currently possible to confirm whether deputies were evaluated after returning home.

To best understand the purpose of such a request, DCS’s deployment must be contextualized. Wisconsin authorities arrived during one of the tensest periods during the Standing Rock standoff. A day in–on October 10th–actress Shailene Woodley was arrested in a group of 27 by authorities.

Woodley’s arrest was live streamed, then subsequently covered by numerous media outlets. Despite being charged with engaging in a riot, little evidence of such was recorded. Rather, police personnel, some wearing camo fatigues, moved in on the marchers for obtain arrests. Woodley, as shown on the live streamed video, was detained without a fight.

A Wisconsin EMAC after-action report states personnel were “utilized in a crowd control situation” on October 10th. The report notes a total of 27 people arrested and issued the same charges as Woodley’s group.

However, it’s unknown which of the several Wisconsin departments actually participated. Similarly, it’s unclear what the context of those arrests actually was. Although the profile of this WSP action matches Woodley’s, it’s unclear if the two events are the same.

Dane County denied TFC requests for use-of-force reports pertaining to personnel it sent. According to their response, all such documents are controlled by Morton County. EMAC policy on records keeping during deployments was obtained via FOIA by other parties months ago. This specific guideline can be found on page 19 of the document.

Similar requests made by other parties have been denied in various ways. Muckruck.com, an investigative FOIA (Freedom Of Information Act) request site, pursued Dane County’s Standing Rock body cam’s. However, DCS denied it stating it “does not provide body cameras for any of its employee’s.”

Dane County Sheriff’s eventually ended their EMAC commitment after a rash of public condemnation. According to spokespeople, Wisconsinites didn’t agree with local officers being utilized in places other than their community. This coincided with a brief stint of other authorities leaving Standing Rock, with unnamed officers even turning in their badges.

In any case, Dane County represented just 13 of a 43-strong Wisconsin Standing Rock force. Even after Wisconsin personnel left, a detachment returned during a later climax of the protests. Some suggest this deployment was partly done to test various recommendations made by Wisconsin EMAC after the initial trip. To be clear, while it’s known Wisconsin State Patrol re-deployed personnel, Dane’s involvement is unknown.

With the standoff all but extinguished, numerous implications loom in its aftermath. Namely, that officers deployed under EMAC from Wisconsin, and other states, are ghosts. Their identities are just as obscured as the documents detailing what they were exposed to during DAPL.

TFC writers explored this dilemma from a mental health perspective via opinion piece published on Greed Media months ago. This is a deeply stigmatized topic in law enforcement for a multitude of reasons. As a result, few systems exist to not only effectively deal with unstable officers, but also unstable arrestees.

TFC contacted former police officer Randy Shrewsberry for his perspective on the mental health component to DAPL. Shrewsberry boasts over 20 years of law enforcement experience in various agencies. He, in turn, contacted experts in the Mental Health Advocacy wing of his organization, the Institute For Justice Education Reform. The non-profit focuses on improving police training, and the data influencing said training.

Alexander Berry, M.S–representing IFJER’s Mental Health and Organization Psychology Advocacy–  highlighted the need for “strong preventive” programs inside police departments “to measure stress levels and mental states after particular incidents”. Data on cop PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and other forms of officer psych-issues is being developed nationally. Particular interest is also centered on officers repeatedly involved in shootings. Without the development of such data, however, Berry admitted “we simply do not know” how extensive officer psych-issues are.

Image Source: Ivan Bandura, Flickr, Creative Commons
(File photo)

In Wauwatosa Wisconsin, for example, one officer–Joseph Mensah–killed twice in 11 months. One of those killings, involving a bipolar individual with a sword, occurred while Mensah was still a probationary officer. Like Dane County’s deputies, Mensah returned to work soon after pulling the trigger. When residents became concerned at this frequency, instead of answering them, the Wauwatosa Police Department kept quiet.

Some initiatives have achieved headway, including a 2011 analysis produced by an Arkansas department. On pages 6-7, the paper cites a study conducted on 37 officers, “only 3” of which showed “no PTSD symptoms at all”. This then posed the question of whether PTSD diagnosis’ could prevent officers from getting hired. As the paper notes, this contributes to the culture of stigma and ignoring psychological issues in officers.

A chart was also provided on page 11 listing various departments known to have psych evaluations and a few which didn’t. No department from Wisconsin, however, was included on the graphic. Still, it demonstrated the lack of standardized police mental health assessments nationwide.

Clearly, PTSD is a complicated issue presenting departments with dynamic dilemmas. Adapt this to DAPL, and it becomes understandable why deputies returning to work too soon is a concern. Especially in a municipality like Dane, which isn’t normally engaged in these kinds of incidents. One specification of EMAC volunteer personnel is that they be experienced, and well trained for the deployment. What training, if any, or experience Dane County deputies may have had is unclear.

Additionally, PTSD is simply one notably problematic manifestation of working in hazardous environments. There are a host of other psychological consequences inherent to policing which aren’t adequately explored or understood. It’s these complicated and, perhaps, more difficulty assessed aftershocks which may be triggered by intense actions like DAPL. In Dane County and elsewhere, no one knows until departments allow people peek behind the curtain.