Eau Claire Leader-Telegram. August 15, 2021.
Editorial: Court’s caution on Lokken justified
Unless we’re dramatically misreading the judge’s comments late last week about Larry Lokken’s bid for an early release, he doesn’t appear to be going home soon. That’s as it should be.
Judge Jon Theisen didn’t formally rule on the motion, and that seems appropriate as well. Lokken appeared without an attorney and Theisen had concerns about whether Lokken understood the nature of the hearing. If he didn’t understand that, he may not have been able to waive his right to counsel with full knowledge of the implications that would have.
Theisen’s concern for the rule of law and the right of someone in a court proceeding to be represented by someone who knows the law and how court hearings operate is exactly what we should all expect from judges. That’s true even, perhaps especially, in cases like this. Lokken isn’t a defendant anymore. He’s a convict. He pleaded no contest to stealing more than $625,000 from Eau Claire County, though the full amount between him and his former deputy is in the millions. And he is in the midst of a 9 ½-year sentence for doing so.
Odious as Lokken’s actions were, there are certain fundamental rights in the United States that simply cannot be tossed aside. One of those is that anyone involved in the court system has the right to be represented by a competent attorney if they choose to be so represented. If there’s a question about whether a waiver of that right was made with full understanding of what it might entail, the judge is right to hit pause and give time to reconsider.
Lokken’s request for a geriatric release seemingly got a boost in May, when the Department of Corrections’ Program Review Committee looked favorably on it. The committee concluded “public interest would be served” by granting Lokken’s petition, citing his age, the fact his crime was not violent, and his lack of a previous criminal history.
Frankly, as we said shortly after the committee’s recommendation, we think they got it wrong. So, based on a number of comments and complaints we got after that story ran, do a substantial number of people in the community.
Lokken, unsurprisingly, isn’t one of them. His petition was the first time he took any sort of responsibility for his actions, and it was hardly convincing. He claimed he “was in denial” about his actions when he was first convicted, and only now had come to understand “I have culpability.” That’s not exactly a full and frank admission, given the shading possible in the word culpability.
Lokken also said he would be able to restore his reputation in the community if released and that he could be a productive member of the Eau Claire community. If that’s his assessment of his standing after his arrest, trial, conviction and failure to make even a modest effort at restitution, his denial about his true situation has lasted a lot longer than he claims.
As we said before, we don’t blame Lokken for asking. Prison, even in a place with far fewer constraints than those in a maximum security facility, isn’t pleasant. We’ve heard of few inmates who want to extend their stays beyond what is absolutely required.
But the claims that Lokken would be welcomed with open arms, that he could waltz back into Eau Claire and be immediately accepted as having even a fraction of his previous standing, simply aren’t realistic. Not when he makes only the most cursory nod toward recompense, only to boast to the committee of having “a solid financial plan” for after his release — a plan based on assets he knows full well are immune to seizure or garnishment.
Theisen’s assessment of the situation seems to us to be spot on. Lokken’s petition is simply unpersuasive. He seemingly continues to rely on manipulation, a mask of contrition rather than the real thing.
But the charade appears to be over. It comes down now to a judge’s view of Lokken’s actions, current and past. And, based on what Theisen said last week, he’s not impressed with what he sees.
Kenosha News. August 17, 2021.
Editorial: Eviction moratorium punishes good-faith landlords
Last December, when COVID-19 vaccines were just beginning to be made available, we urged Congress to help both renters and landlords, because while the pandemic was preventing some renters from working and thus crippling their ability to pay the rent, the costs to maintain rental properties weren’t going away for the property owners.
Eight months later, the federal eviction moratorium remains in place in areas with high COVID transmission rates. But the maintenance costs for the property owners aren’t going anywhere.
We have sympathy for renters still reeling from the pandemic’s effects on their ability to make rent. Almost without exception, if you’re paying rent to somebody, you don’t have a place you own; paying rent is your only means of having shelter. Your ability to make rent is tied directly to your ability to work.
But there’s no shortage of assistance for renters at the moment, especially not in Wisconsin. Gov. Tony Evers announced a $25 million rental assistance program in May 2020, and that program remains active. There’s also the eviction moratorium, which Congress allowed to lapse but President Joe Biden’s administration extended earlier this month.
As for property owners? There’s not nearly as much help for them.
We’re reserving some of our sympathy for property owners such as Noel Wilson, whose story we reprinted in our December editorial. A former teacher, she began renting out her San Bernardino, Calif., home two years ago to help pay for a career change, the Washington Post reported at the end of last year. The tenant paid faithfully at first, but Wilson said that changed and she began trying to evict him in February 2020. A month later, Congress put the federal moratorium in place. The tenant, who was initially cooperative and owed $14,350 in back rent at the end of 2020, stopped returning her calls, Wilson said. “All of my savings are pretty much gone because of this,” she said. “I am just exhausted. I feel helpless.”
We thought it unfair that the eviction moratorium protected renters who weren’t making rent before the pandemic hit just the same as it did those who lost their jobs because of the pandemic. We don’t find it any more fair eight months later.
“Mom and Pop” landlords such as Noel Wilson bear the costs of maintaining rental properties. If a renter isn’t paying rent, then some or all of the expected source of income for that maintenance is a dry well.
Today, we ask you this: Would you want to trade places with them?
Wisconsin State Journal. August 15, 2021.
Editorial: Credit cops for calming crisis calls
Police from Milwaukee to La Crosse are trying a new and promising way to respond to mental health emergencies.
They’re pairing police officers with county crisis workers to handle calls such as a person threatening suicide. The welcome goal is to deescalate situations and avoid violence while getting people the help they need faster.
Milwaukee has three two-person “crisis assessment response teams” and plans to add three more by the end of the year to cover such calls around the clock, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel recently reported. Some of the cops who team with mental health clinicians have backgrounds in health care, such as psychiatric nursing. So far, the effort seems to be working in reducing arrests and involuntary confinements. And Milwaukee County plans to launch three teams of its own.
La Crosse just announced a “community resource unit” that’s similar. Police estimate as many as 20% of emergency calls result from mental health decline. Sending a La Crosse County counselor with an officer to more of these incidents could save time and resources for the rest of the police department and ease the burden on the courts. After the team’s initial response, the county worker provides follow-up visits to encourage positive outcomes.
“We’ve learned that we cannot arrest our way out of mental health issues,” Monica Kruse, chair of the La Crosse County Board, told the La Crosse Tribune.
That’s for sure.
Madison has trained police officers to concentrate on mental health calls since at least 2015, and those officers sometimes work with social workers. Now Madison plans to pair paramedics with mental health professionals to handle some calls without officers.
The hope is that not having an officer with a badge and gun showing up will further ease tensions for people in crisis. The risk is that the paramedic and counselor could be put in more danger if an incident turns violent. At a minimum, an officer should be nearby to quickly respond if things escalate.
As varying attempts across Wisconsin seek to improve policing, policymakers should be watching and assessing the results, with plans to replicate those efforts that prove successful.
Wisconsin cities have mostly resisted calls to defund police, which is good. Madison’s crime rate remains relatively low for a city its size. Yet violent crime and murders are up. So are speeding and fatal crashes, making our highways more dangerous despite less congestion during the pandemic.
So cutting officers isn’t the answer. But improving law enforcement is.
And that’s what a lot of departments are doing with renewed energy and creativity in the wake of last year’s protests against police killings of unarmed Black people, including George Floyd in Minneapolis.
More progress included Gov. Tony Evers signing into law bipartisan bills that limit deadly force and require law enforcement to report when officers fail to comply with stricter standards. Previously this summer, Evers and the Legislature banned chokeholds, except in life-threatening situations or when officers are defending themselves.
More cities (though, unfortunately, not Madison) are putting body cameras on police officers to show the public what happened after controversial police encounters.
That’s not enough. Law enforcement must diversify its ranks to better reflect the communities they serve, as Madison police have done.
Yet as calls for further change continue, police deserve credit for progress. Increasingly, they’re getting people suffering mental distress the help they need — rather than locking them up.