Wauwatosa police may soon have say on special events

Published on: 2/29/2012

The Wauwatosa Police Department spent $3,000 on employee overtime to have officers provide security at the rally in support of Gov. Scott Walker at Hart Park in January. However, no one consulted Chief Barry Weber about the resources it would take to conduct the political event safely.

"We didn't have any say-so in that approval at all," he said.

In these contentious political times, he foresees more requests to hold similar events within the city, and that could cost his department a lot of money, he told the Community Development Committee on Tuesday.

Ordinance change proposed

When it comes to parades - or pretty much any activity that would interfere with traffic on the roads, including street festivals, block parties or charitable run/walks - a permit must be pulled. The chief has the right to deny the application, at which time the applicant has the option to appeal to the Common Council.

City Attorney Alan Kesner said the ordinance could be amended and expanded to a "special events ordinance" that would pertain to any event that's going to use public property or require police presence. He will bring a draft ordinance to the committee in two weeks for consideration.

Neither the group organizing the rally, political action committee Onward Wisconsin, nor Tosa Tonight, the group the city contracts with to manage the Rotary Performance Pavilion, did anything wrong, Kesner said.

City ordinance allows for separate rules for specific areas of the park, and the area around the pavilion falls into that category as stipulated in the lease with Tosa Tonight, he said.

However, park staff did break the rules when the area of Hart Park between 70th and 72nd streets - typically used as a fireworks viewing area on Fourth of July - also was rented out for the rally. Still, Kesner questions whether the rule that park space can't be used for political events is even enforceable.

Public parks and political speech are "two sacrosanct aspects of free speech," and prohibiting use for such reasons can cause trouble. Instead, the city needs to make decisions based on its resources, Kesner said.

Equity, price tag are issues

Weber said that in the case of the rally, he would have denied a permit because of the cost to the taxpayers. In addition to overtime pay, there was a lot of planning and shuffling of resources that occurred.

While security is listed as the responsibility of the user in the stage rental agreement, it was not an event that the police could have ignored, the chief said.

"The potential for bad things happening that day was very real," he said.

Committee members said they see it as an issue of fairness. Alderman Bobby Pantuso recalled pulling permits and paying for crowd control and traffic barriers to conduct a neighborhood association fun run and walk.

Next step

WHAT: The Community Development Committee will consider a special events ordinance that will require pulling a permit with the Police Department for any event to take place on public property or where a police presence is needed.

WHEN: 8 p.m. March 13

WHERE: City Hall, 7725 W. North Ave.